I’m a nerd.* I program computers, like Star Wars, the whole bit. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to do things smarter, rather than harder.
These days, it’s a pretty good gig to be a nerd. While most of the U.S. is still struggling with unemployment, Silicon Valley is booming. And the nerds have been good to us: the Internet is the best encyclopedia/newspaper ever, and caters to the narrowest of interests (I mean, you’re reading this, aren’t you?).
More important but less obvious is the tremendous amount of work you don’t have to do. Industrialized agriculture means I don’t have to till the ground. Electric power means I don’t have to chop wood to have light at night (as I write this, at 10 PM).
People like me are busily engaged in automating as many things as we can. The list of things that require human labor is losing items.
Classical economic theory would hold that that’s totally fine, because instead of chopping wood or whatever, we can spend that time studying the finer points of designing iPhones. In other words, the list of things that require human labor can gain items too.
And that’s generally true. But it neglects one important thing: it retards development. While designing iPhones may be alpha, learning to design them is not. Learning is inherently a beta experience. One learns from one’s betters, not one’s inferiors.
“Smart” may be attractive, but “dutiful student” is not.
When you hear “educated, specialized economy,” think “more time spent in school in a beta frame.” Worse, the frame may be internalized, and remain after school.
Alpha is a societal resource, and the long years of preparation for specialized labor are one of the causes of the shortage of it.
* Nerd: a guy who reacts to being a small fish in a big pond by retreating to a smaller pond.