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Sunday July 5th 2015

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Disrupting the Higher Education Subsidy Cartel

MAX BORDERS, THE FREEMAN

Clay Shirky is right. Higher education as we know it is a dinosaur. And that’s a good thing. Learning from the hard lessons of big incumbents in the music industry, Shirky writes:

Once you see this pattern—a new story rearranging people’s sense of the possible, with the incumbents the last to know—you see it everywhere. First, the people running the old system don’t notice the change. When they do, they assume it’s minor. Then that it’s a niche. Then a fad. And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they’ve squandered most of the time they had to adapt.

It’s been interesting watching this unfold in music, books, newspapers, TV, but nothing has ever been as interesting to me as watching it happen in my own backyard. Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or MOOC), and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup.

We have several advantages over the recording industry, of course. We are decentralized and mostly non-profit. We employ lots of smart people. We have previous examples to learn from, and our core competence is learning from the past. And armed with these advantages, we’re probably going to screw this up as badly as the music people did.

It’s important that libertarians develop Kirznerian alertness to these kinds of opportunities. What monolithic, cross-subsidized state-sanctioned beast can I disrupt with innovation today? As we have long known, electoral politics is not an incentive system that rewards our way of thinking. It’s time to start looking for opportunities to let ‘better-faster-cheaper’ make Leviathan obsolete.

(Like Hitoshi Sakamoto is doing.)


Max Bordersis is editor of The Freeman magazine and director of content for The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He is also author of Superwealth: Why we should stop worrying about the gap between rich and poor.


Copyright © 2012 Foundation for Economic Education. All rights reserved. Used with the permission