MARCUS: Knowledge economy is not new

Morton Marcus
May 22, 2010
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Morton Marcus

The phone rings. I answer, “Hey-lo?”

“Mr. Marcus, Morton? You don’t know me. I’m Linus Cone and I read your column in the Crothersville Times. It’s enjoyable, but you don’t resolve things. You don’t come to conclusions. I’m always left hanging.”

“Good,” I say. “My pervasive doubt and intellectual insecurity are getting through.”

“That’s (here he uses a phrase your family newspaper will not print). You have an obligation to be clear and definitive.”

“Mr. Cone,” I say, “few matters in life are clear and definitive. Sadly, we grow up learning that all can or should be reduced (or elevated) to mathematical modeling. We have no courses or TV channels specializing in ambiguity, no college major in uncertainty.”

“Please,” he pleads, “stop it! Let’s just talk simply about something, anything.”

“How about where the world is going?” I suggest.

“If you must,” he says. “Where is the world going?”

“Nowhere different from where it has been,” I reply.

“Impossible and inconceivable. How can you say that?” he asks. “We’re moving rapidly from a manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy.”

Now it is my turn to offer a phrase your newspaper will not print.

“Mr. Cone,” I say, “that is a line of guff being spewed by those who want you to think they know something you don’t and that you should feel inadequate about your role in society.”

“B-but,” he sputters, “you hear it all the time from the leading observers of our era.”

“Knowledge,” I say, “is and has been the key element in the production of goods and services since our ancestors started collecting fruit in the trees and nuts on the ground. If you know eatable from poisonous, you have knowledge and live. If you know how to kill an antelope or catch a fish, you live. Knowledge of the seasons and the properties of earth and water are the foundations of agriculture.

“Manufacturing,” I continue, “is the transformation of knowledge into goods that permit others to do what they otherwise could not. If you know how to make an arrow, a plow or fertilizer, you are making it possible for others with lesser or different knowledge to be more productive. We have always lived in a knowledge-based society. In that respect, today and tomorrow are no different from the days of Cleopatra.

“Knowledge builds on knowledge,” I persist in my barrage of verbiage. “Those pushing the ‘knowledge economy’ are saying that the less educated, with fewer degrees, are not fit for today’s world. This mantra then is taken up by business and political leaders who want to be seen as with it, hip or au courant.”

“And?” he says.

“Exactly, Mr. Cone,” I declare. “The point of all this is that the point has been missed. The idea of the knowledge economy is a perversion of the concept of a knowledge industry, where knowledge is considered a product that can be managed and marketed. Universities and independent laboratories, as well as individual firms, are part of the knowledge industry.

“In the past, stretching back way before the Cubs’ history of failure, the creation of knowledge was not organized; it was hit or miss. Now, the idea is, knowledge can be produced through appropriate management, subjected to corporate discipline, promoted by advertising and packaging. Gone is the individual accidentally discovering something of value; today, knowledge is believed to be a vein of ore that can be mined.”

“Well!” he says. “That was certainly a definitive declaration.”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I could be entirely off-base again.”•


Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.


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  1. In reality, Lilly is maintaining profit by cutting costs such as Indiana/US citizen IT workers by a significant amount with their Tata Indian consulting connection, increasing Indian H1B's at Lillys Indiana locations significantly and offshoring to India high paying Indiana jobs to cut costs and increase profit at the expense of U.S. workers.

  2. I think perhaps there is legal precedence here in that the laws were intended for family farms, not pig processing plants on a huge scale. There has to be a way to squash this judges judgment and overrule her dumb judgement. Perhaps she should be required to live in one of those neighbors houses for a month next to the farm to see how she likes it. She is there to protect the people, not the corporations.

  3. http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/engineer/facts/03-111.htm Corporate farms are not farms, they are indeed factories on a huge scale. The amount of waste and unhealthy smells are environmentally unsafe. If they want to do this, they should be forced to buy a boundary around their farm at a premium price to the homeowners and landowners that have to eat, sleep, and live in a cesspool of pig smells. Imagine living in a house that smells like a restroom all the time. Does the state really believe they should take the side of these corporate farms and not protect Indiana citizens. Perhaps justifiable they should force all the management of the farms to live on the farm itself and not live probably far away from there. Would be interesting to investigate the housing locations of those working at and managing the corporate farms.

  4. downtown in the same area as O'malia's. 350 E New York. Not sure that another one could survive. I agree a Target is needed d'town. Downtown Philly even had a 3 story Kmart for its downtown residents.

  5. Indy-area residents... most of you have no idea how AMAZING Aurelio's is. South of Chicago was a cool pizza place... but it pales in comparison to the heavenly thin crust Aurelio's pizza. Their deep dish is pretty good too. My waistline is expanding just thinking about this!