Why knowledge is the new commodity, and why your degree may ultimately be useless.

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote “New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with the richer we become.” But is that true of all knowledge, or just some? Look closely at developed nations, those with un-launched missiles and un-dropped bombs. Then look at those nations and cultures that do not value knowledge. It might not be surprising that those nations are frequently at war, most often each other, their missiles are fired, their bombs are dropped.

It does a nation like China little good to go to war with a nation like Russia or the United States. What could they hope to accomplish? Even if they were successful, it is highly unlikely they could generate more wealth than they do by being equal trading partners with these same nations. In those nations, knowledge is highly valued and highly sough. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that in those nations where knowledge is devalued, violence and terror are the common currency, and war is near continuous.

Sociologist tell us that there are over 7 ½ billion people living on our planet. We are told that over 1 million infants die each year before reaching 24 hours old. What about those babies born today? Those who survive into adulthood may well be faced with a world of glaring contrasts. Some will meet great opportunities filled with hope, while others will face a bleak future, a future and a culture filled with violence, misery, and uncertainty. The principal difference really comes down to the geographical accident of birth; are you born into an information and knowledge rich culture, or one that is information and knowledge poor.

In the United States today, many argue we have gotten away from industrialization and manufacturing. They claim we export raw materials and import durable products made from those materials. As a driving force for individualism, research, knowledge, and achievement, the United States was once the equal of any. Schools like Harvard and Yale, Brown and Brandeis, were the rivals of Oxford or Cambridge. Education, or so it was argued by some, was intentionally placed out of reach of the masses so that only the wealthy could afford to attend. Nt so in America today, where higher learning (at least in some schools) has become big business. As any successful businessman knows, the customer is always right. If the courses prove too strenuous, adjust them. If writing papers is just too taxing, or taking exams is too emotionally stressful, they demand schools remove those requirements. In the end, the college diploma of tomorrow will be like the high school diploma of today: useless.

In 2016, it was estimated that nearly 1 ½ billion people lived in poverty, one so extreme that day-to-day survival was far from certain. And while nearly 30,000 people die from malnutrition each day on our planet, most of us have fast food, warm, cozy homes, and yet we complain that educators keep expecting us to learn things! If we are even the least bit honest, the end result is fairly easy to predict. In the new creative economy, where knowledge (as opposed to degrees or diplomas) is highly valued and sought, where human intellectual potential is prized, there are a great many who will be the first to complain that they have no actual usable knowledge to draw upon, and only a mountain of debt.

As a result of the leaps and bounds in science and research today, information is the new work platform, and real knowledge is the currency.

And as governments like the United States, Canada, Russia, the United Kingdom, China, Japan, among many others are creating new information policies, fueling higher education (especially among research areas, physical and life sciences, and data science), so many of us focus on programs that have no possible use in the outside world, and no means of gainful employment once college and graduate school is over.

In the New World that seeks to renew and optimize resources, push the boundaries of what is known, real marketable knowledge will continue to gain in value. For those who lack real, usable knowledge, they will have a very difficult time in the new knowledge based economy.

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