Monday, September 8, 2014

Musings on Market Share

I hear people talk about there being an 'asset bubble' in the Western education market, similar to the one in the US housing market that popped around the turn of the century.  I agree that there is probably a bubble in education, and here are some thoughts I had about it, and about asset bubbles (or "economic growth") in general.  In sum, I do not believe in progress without regress, life without death, up without down, etc.

Every commodity can be over-valued. I think many people pay far too much for education right now--largely because they confuse education with institutional affiliation, as though learning or professional vocation were somehow inextricably dependent on possessing the imprimatur of a particular institution. The more the latter becomes true, the closer to collapse the market is. The more institutions corner the market on education, the more they invite the kind of corruption and abuse that sow seeds for a regime change that will severely depreciate the social value of their imprimatur (which may go extinct as a valid way of offering credentials, the way Bear Stearns is extinct as a means of managing finances).

Why do I oppose Monsanto? Not because I don't believe in science (or evolution, or agriculture). I don't believe in putting all eggs in one basket. I don't believe in cornering markets. I would like to find the smallest margin of profit I can maintain without going under (as an individual or institution), and then seek to maintain that (as long as the environment supports it)--not grow it to the point where I dominate (and invite the lightning-bolt of Zeus).

I oppose Monsanto because I see them doing to agriculture what universities aspire to do to education, what GoldmanSachs aspires to do with banks (and the nations that rely on banks), etc. To control all shots is dangerous, semper et ubique. I want minimal control (enough that I don't die), not too much (so much that I become "too big to fail" and wind up dragging entire communities down with my inevitable failure). Whatever we build must eventually fall down. I want to engineer institutions with this reality in mind--with the mortality of all companies clearly present in the mind of those creating them and working for them. We should aim not to live forever (nobody has achieved this, and you are not smarter than the guys who built Rome), but to die with minimal harm to those in and around us. We want to minimize corrosion, not maximize utility (or profit or advantage or brand or control or market-share or whatever anyone wants to call it). Losing well, over a history of multiple market-cycles, is more important than winning in any individual cycle (and there is no such thing as winning over all cycles).

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