Sunday, March 31, 2013

The New Welfare?

I have to do my best to keep this account anonymous.

A particularly talented student I know would stand much to gain from attending a highly prestigious summer school. This institution is likely to benefit her not only in cultivating the techniques necessary for her work but in providing opportunities for gainful employment. As might be guessed such education does not come cheap; and, having been through the several other stages of the educational cycle, this student does not have particularly deep pockets.

On the other hand she has a fair amount of Internet wisdom. As I result I found myself reading an electronic mail message informing me that she was planning to raise the money for her tuition through crowdsourcing. She is not the first of a younger generation of current or recent students who are making a go of things by using crowdsourcing to raise their own financial aid. This raised my own consciousness about the extent to which Internet facility has become the platform for "new resourcefulness."

While this may well turn out to be a story with a happy ending, the benefits of the Internet, like magic on Once Upon a Time, come with a price. The price in this case is a new division of haves and have-nots. Having come to a stage at which "the powers that be" are willing to recognize that the division of wealth is more radical than it has ever been in the past, they have tried to fall back on the belief that the Internet will solve this problem. In a sense the story of this particular student is one of how a "have-not" became a "have," albeit in a rather limited context. However, the transition depended on having the skill to "work the Internet," so to speak. This skill remains in the hands of a very limited few, not unlike the very limited few who control most of the wealth. The price is, as it were, the exchange of one radical, if not punitive, stratification of society for another.

Not too long ago I observed that there was a rise of news reports about labor unrest in a variety of different settings. The led me to wonder whether or not we might be turning to a new era of workers of the world uniting. However, the other proliferation of news reports seems to reflect an increase in violent crimes. In this country some of this may be related to recent efforts to regulate gun control, but this is not a phenomenon restricted to the United States. I would therefore consider that, on a global scale, workers of the world are "coming apart," rather than uniting and that such deterioration may result from the division between those capable of summoning that "new resourcefulness" and those who lack the means to do so.

Those who hold the power, whether in the financial sector or in cyberspace, may wish to consider just how they want to exercise that power. Seeing to the welfare of the needy used to be regarded as a fundamental virtue of a healthy society. If such health no longer matters, then deterioration cannot be far behind.

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