Edward Luce channels the bravado of momentous industry in last week’s Financial Times:

The effects of technology are only just beginning to be felt in education and healthcare – the two most labour-intensive areas of the US economy that both suffer from productivity stagnation. Online education is beginning to spread. It is also meeting resistance. “The reactionaries in the faculties will eventually be grandfathered out,” says Tyler Cowen, co-founder of the Marginal Revolution University, which has pioneered free online learning in economics and other subjects. “We’ll still need Harvard as a dating service,” he jokes. “But the mid-level private universities do not know what is about to hit them.”

The author of the quoted perspective, Tyler Cowen, knows that dooming the mid-level private university does not entail the success of Marginal Revolution University. Cowen knows that large public universities are no longer averse to coalition-building with mid-level private universities to out-compete all sizes of open education initiatives in the long-term. Cowen seeks to re-brand Harvard University — a dating service! — without noticing that Clayton Christensen — the clearest voice on disruptive innovation theory in the education sector — works for Harvard.


Cowen isn’t given any space to acknowledge this, because Luce uses Cowen’s mouth to introduce the “despairing view” that government will eventually have to provide “a basic guaranteed income to all Americans….”

While I like the beautiful logic of Luce’s labor statistics, there is a great deal of journalistic model-building going on here without some requisite animated scanning. I would encourage Luce to  consider whether mid-level private universities and large public universities might not have the skills and business acumen to exploit the unique American history of science & technology policy — namely, basic guaranteed income — to shift economic policy.

My point is that the mid-level private universities that matter most to Cowen know damn well what’s coming.

I would suspect that in order for Cowen’s suggestion about basic guaranteed income to eventuate, Marginal Revolution University and its ilk must fail. The education industry can then produce civil leaders and industry visionaries who will engender an acceptable participatory politics of science and technology in the US. And so, Luce and Cowen’s bravado hidrosis is a walking contradiction in this respect.