Alan Weiss’s Monday Morning Memo® – 01/22/2024
Wealth had once been solely represented by land ownership. The more property one owned, the more the wealth. The land could be rented out to tenant farmers, or used to raise livestock, or to create rental housing. This is why we heard of the “landed aristocracy” and, below them, the “landed gentry.”
This led to the power of labor, the human resources that could manually till the land, or build structures, or raise animals. The Church grew its wealth and power through huge landholdings and low-cost labor. (“Celibacy” of the clergy is neither theological nor a theme from the Bible. It was created by church leaders to prevent the local church’s assets from passing on to a wife in the event of the clergyman’s death.) As nations developed into the 18th, 19th, and even 20th Centuries, labor was a key aspect of wealth, and the current “first world” countries had a surfeit of available, employable labor for domestic and military use. Today, however, morbidity is exceeding fertility among nearly all those countries, and the large possessors of future, free labor will be in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, and similar countries.
The leverage of labor has been manifest in the rise of labor unions to combat the exploitation of labor, and the abomination of slavery to try to maximize that exploitation. Automation, however, has lowered the value of physical labor. (And AI might lower the value of intellectual labor.)
The next sources of wealth were capital and equipment: railroads, mines, steel, textiles, construction, and so forth. The Luddites constituted an attempt to halt modernization and automation, which eliminate the need for human labor and move the wealth to the people who had the capital to invest in industry. They were singularly unsuccessful, of course, and with the exception of emergencies (such as war), labor’s contribution and value began to diminish. Henry Ford’s assembly line instantiated this trend.
While all of these forces led to increasing disparities in income, as late as post-World War II, growth in income disparity (have/have not) was relatively small for about three decades or so. But it is increasing substantially now, and my analysis is that the current great factor behind this is knowledge disparity. We are not offering equal access and equal opportunity for everyone to benefit from quality primary, secondary, and post-secondary education. It’s not that college is a requirement for success, but the point is that education and knowledge are.
We are in constant contingent action dealing with poor education. In my view, this is caused by militant teachers’ unions which do not see the parent or child as their “customer”; by improper funding, using property taxes locally that guarantee wealthy communities with a lot of tax money create the best schools while the poorest communities cannot; and a lack of political will to fight these entrenched obstacles.
“Have/have not” has become about cognition.
Increasing knowledge disparity, if not checked and reversed, will be fatal. In the modern world, this doesn’t mean giving anyone land, or capital, it means giving them an education that will improve and hone cognitive skills. For every child who experiences a poor education, we have a potential future liability: homelessness, drug addiction, criminal activity, mental health issues, poverty, suicide.
The great issue today isn’t climate, or abortion, or immigration, important as they may be. It’s about providing every child (and adult) with the ability to learn from quality sources and to have the opportunity to apply that learning to earn whatever their talent and hard work merits. The American Dream is about believing you have a chance to compete and to advance, no matter what your current situation.
But if that chance is denied because society refuses to provide the opportunity to do so, then we have an American Nightmare.
Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society. —Sonia Sotomayor
I speak not for myself but for those without a voice…those who have fought for their rights…their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated. —Malala Yousafzai