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Will the “Knowledge Economy” Save Us?

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11 November 2013 by Brendan Stone


According to Geoffrey Hodgson, developed economies have begun a transformation towards a “knowledge economy” comparable in importance to the industrial revolution. As production becomes increasingly complex, he argues, high levels of skill are increasingly important. There is an increasing reliance on specialist skills and the development of a complex and evolving “knowledge society.”[1] Richard Florida posits the existence of a “creative class” and describes key characteristics of the liberated “new workplace” in the “knowledge economy.”


Going beyond Andrew Ross’ descriptions of positive “knowledge” workplace attributes in No Collar, Florida waxes eloquently about the new “business casual,” or workers’ newfound freedom to wear stylish or garish clothing in the workplace. Florida lauds the flexibility in scheduling enjoyed by creative workers, and especially the creativity-driven transformations in the workplace itself. Offices have become less bland, he states, and are characterized by more radical furnishings. The new trend incorporates open, spacious office design with shared or communal spaces, and interesting lighting or art. Amenities at work may include espresso bars and Frisbee fields. Workplaces, suggests Florida, are being remodeled to reflect the expanding freedom of employee minds.[2]


Observing the apparent emergence of a “new” economy, Hodgson asserts that counter to the claims of Karl Marx and Harry Braverman, the developed economies are witnessing a dematerialization of production, and a move from “action to intellect.” As we move towards an “information-rich” society, deskilling is not occurring as a broad process, he argues, and there is no reason to believe that workers displaced from skilled or semi-skilled jobs will end up in deskilled jobs.[3] The thesis of the emergence of the “knowledge economy” has led one academic to venture as a possibility for discussion that...


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I'd contend that we are a long way away from the "knowledge economy" much vaunted by the likes of Enda Kenny and chums.  What we have in Ireland is a mainly young population who are really good at passing exams but have never been encouraged to express their intellectual creativity.  Couple this with our archaic telecommunications network and it looks like there is little hope of us ever developing one.  South Korea, a paragon of Capitialist endeavour, has universal fibre connections to every household provided by the state.  This allows the clever entreprenurial types there to share information and resources which has enabled them to devlop a genuine knowledge economy and indigenous industry.  Technology is everywhere there from personalised advertising hoardings in train stations to Starcraft players who treated as premiership footballers.  So long as Ireland's telecoms system is held by private business and a Capitalist administration do little about it then we will always lag behind more progressive countries.


There are few opportunities for employment in Irish owned IT companies for those with the skills and knowledge.  Most of these so called "knowledge economy" jobs are in multinational corporations and at the very lowest end of the scale e.g. call centres.  These types of jobs add little to the economy in real terms.  Tech-wise manufacturing is where it is at.  We don't do much of that here, even multinational Intel are producing less at their much adored Leixlip plant.


What we need in Ireland to generate a real "knowledge economy" is a population educated in the necessary skills like programming, development, electronics etc. with the proper infrastructure to enable them to prosper.  We need fewer desk jockeys with headsets telling customers on the far side of the world to download drivers and the like and more people able to get under the desk and fiddle about with a torch in their mouth and a couple of screwdrivers.

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