MAKING MONEY WITH EDUCATION

 

            It’s the American way, isn’t it.  Fiat money is the fundamental measure of economic success, although not necessarily cultural or aesthetic fulfillment.

            Capitalism works that way.  Self-interest encourages work that benefits others when rewarded by fiat money, a simple greatest (or maybe least) common denominator of exchange.  Society can organize around this and solve common problems and satisfy any historian.  

            And “making money” becomes the simplest motive.  Within the world of legitimate and legal activity, there is an enormous amount of symbolic activity “paper pushing” and leveraging of financial structures distinctly related to real wealth—land, labor, animals, even information. There is, for example, something as counterintuitive as selling short (not to include shorting against the box).

            So much economic activity, however, is driven by short-term financial success—stock prices vary enormously with established companies on whether they make earnings. For startups, however, there have sometimes been no earnings expectations at all—until investors or venture capitalists find out that a dot-com is just a gimmick with no business model and a superficial, silly idea.

            The most visible evidence of corporate economic success in the minds of most investors is simple: earnings, and net profits (especially after-tax). Companies experience a tension between competing pressures: diversity, on the one hand, so that not all eggs are in one basket (“conglomeration”) and sometimes so that cross-selling is possible; and consolidation, professionalism, proper auditability or conflict avoidance, and elimination of redundancy of function, with greater operational economies of scale, are possible when the business model is tightly cohesive around a core business.  During recession—where people simply do not buy enough of what is being produced--, companies feel pressure from shareholders to reduce costs (often through layoffs) to maximize profit for a given index customer base and product or service mix.  Since capital investments can be depreciated, why don’t companies make more capital investments to position themselves competitively for recovery? Perhaps our markets need some reform (more favored treatment for long term holdings than at present) so that they will. When challenged by falling stock prices, executives tend to feel pressured to justify their business plans with operational results, and to expand only after achieving enough operational efficiency and expense reduction to provide a real cushion. The trouble is, when everybody does it, the economy spirals down—until prices and inventories are low enough that executives feel that they can justify new investments.  But the same concept can be applied, with complications, in the way individuals manage their own finances, job marketability, and long-term career plans. 

            In the individualistic world of entrepreneurs, most really original intellectual ideas come from individuals or small companies.  IBM, remember, at one time sold itself down the river to a young Microsoft, and Northern Telecomm once rejected the idea of the personal computer.  For a large part of their life cycle, established companies—even media companies, major trade book publishers and movie studios—generate cash and profits by copying established formulas and proven media names (hence the idea of “right of publicity”).  We see imitation movies—silly comedies, disaster, slasher, and more recently kids’ movies (since they can sell more admissions). Still, publishers and media outlets must eventually turn to new ways of looking at things when competition forces them to.

            How can a media outlet make money with more “serious” broadcasting or particularly film-making or publishing?  After all, ultimately it takes profits to have the ability to do good.  My concept has been to present a canvas showing how different issues correlate into a historical and social trends, with the idea of getting people more involved in understanding how others think. Ultimately, I am asking how you can make education profitable, admittedly difficult in the short run.

            But one idea that is particularly intriguing is developing “point-counterpoint” tables that demonstrate the various positions that can be taken about a problem, matches them to counter-arguments, and provides easy-to-use sources.  Then, at various entries in the tables, options could be provided to allow customers to view or order tables or reports showing quantitative analysis of some aspect of a problem.

            The endpoint of all of this is to change the public’s perception about learning when it comes to delving into political and social issues. Today, politicians assemble into interest groups, each presenting a predigested message to the public with no encouragement for the public to really understand the details or origins of the problems. Conventional political bureaucracy assumes that most people are interested only in what they can “get” from the system to satisfy short-term self-interest. Imagine a database engine and content that, say, displays all of the relevant arguments and counter-arguments, each backed up by facts and references, on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, in a way that the reader can group the information and is encouraged to delve further. The whole function of organizational politics could eventually come into question.

            The underlying concept for presenting such material will be “topicality.”  History moves in clunks, where in each decade or few years there are core issues that seem to capture the public and the politicians.  Each of these issues is like a “context” in object-oriented system design.  Over time, one begins to see how these issues are ultimately interrelated. Nevertheless, it is instructive to name a number of issues (example – “gays in the military”, or “Internet censorship”) and for each one, build a factory of the major arguments that have been made about the issue. Arguments would be cross-referenced to opposing or related views. Each argument then would drill down to a library of supporting sources.  I have started this effort myself at the link http://www.doaskdotell.com/hpinfo/. Eventually I plan to convert this to a database (like MSQL) format.

            It’s also possible to consider repackaging all of this material in book format. One section is to present the basic threats to collective security and stability (with the sudden War on Terrorism now driving this concern).  Then one presents in another section all of the underlying civil liberties that must be defended even in time of war.  These might be organized around the idea of enumerated “fundamental rights,” and for each such right a database-like structure is present showing all of the major questions that come up and sources to support the positions held on these questions.

            I would want to connect the systematic examination of security, social responsibility and fundamental rights with an effort to bring more educational movies back into theaters (rather than depending on cable networks).  A film like a Schindler’s List or a Saving Private Ryan – or a Sunshine-- is so much moving and effective when shared in a public space like a theater. So is an opera like Brttten’s Billy Budd. But we need to be able to get more of history – the movement between the decades of the later 20th Century when the modern practice of individualism was developing, something that journalist Randy Shilts, for example, mastered in his monumental books – into something like a three hour span.

           

 

SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR RESTORING ECONOMIC STABILITY

 

  1. A shorter standard work week
  2. Increased literacy and education of even high-school age students on issues that can substantially and suddenly affect them; education in how other people think
  3. Very careful thinking through and implementation of new domestic security measures
  4. More attention to public and customer education from the entertainment industry, especially movies and even the pop music industry
  5. Increased attention to ethics in high school and college education
  6. Careful rethinking of personal social obligations in areas like defense and elder care; do we have to revisit “the family wage”? .
  7. More attention to the dichotomy and tension between professionalism and entrepreneurialism.
  8. Investment in renewable energy technologies and infrastructure—take global warming seriously at last  Major infratructure projects need to be undertaken, such as a totally new air traffic control system – that’s a lot of jobs.
  9. For the consumer, more attention to security, not just in personal computer software, but also in design of homes and cars.
  10. Securities reforms so that there is more reward for holding securities longer and less short-term pressure from shareholders, especially those who must earn a living from extremely short-term trading (although short selling provides some actual benefits).

 

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©Copyright 2001 by Bill Boushka and High Productivity Publishing. All rights reserved as interpreted by fair use.