We live in an age where a person is judged by the letters they do or do not have behind their name. People spend years of their lives and thousands of dollars to earn these letters for the chance of a future; after all, college is the only way? Right?
I digress. Nevertheless, in this epoch of credentials, and more importantly, the entitlement that comes with those credentials, I cannot help asking myself whether or not a Credential Economy is truly liberal in nature. I define a Credential Economy as one that values theoretical mastery of a subject as earned through higher education over and above practical mastery (merit) as earned through hands-on experience in a field.
To phrase my inquiry in another way, I am asking whether or not, in a truly liberal economy, a would-be manager of a Walmart should need a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree to even be considered for the position?
To this question I answer no; s/he should be able to acquire the position based on adeptness and aptitude, not solely credentials. After all, who is likely better equipped to manage the store: a person who has worked for the company for six years and has risen through the ranks by proving his/her value as an employee but only has a high school diploma, or, a person who has just spent the same amount of time acquiring an MBA, but knows nothing about the business the company operates and has little to no practical experience actually running an enterprise? In my mind, a truly liberal economy would take the first person over the second for a variety of reasons:
- The person has proven themselves to be hardworking and capable of taking on additional responsibilities.
- The person already knows the way the business is run and already has identified areas in need of improvement.
- The person has a vested interest in the success of the business because of the opportunity it has already given him/her.
And yet, in the increasingly manifest Credential Economy we live in, the first person is unlikely to even get the chance to apply because they lack those sacred letters behind their name. Thus, the result is an economy that is lead by entitled but incompetent managers who expect higher pay, more benefits, and sadly produce less for the company that they likely feel little to no loyalty towards.
In a truly liberal economy, merit is what drives a person forward and not credentials. This is not to say that there is no value in credentials — sometimes good people earn these credentials and go on to do great things in their respective fields — but this should never come at the cost of the average-Joe being denied an opportunity for no other reason than lacking such credentials. Nay, this actually results in the creation of an entitled quasi-aristocratic class whose very existence is reliant on the workers they poorly manage.
Now I am certainly no Marxist, let me be very clear on that point. But I also think that a purely Credential Economy is not only flawed but illiberal. Merit should mean something, it should be worth something, not only because it is morally right to attribute value to what a person can produce, but also because it is the engine that powers a successful economy and ultimately, a successful society. A world where a lack of credentials bars a person from success is counter-productive at best, and cruel and oppressive at worst. Many of the people that have defined our world today have no such credentials behind their name: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, the list goes on.
Detractors will likely try to say that there is nothing wrong with a Credential Economy because hypothetically everyone can attain credentials. Oh indeed, but in reality, there are many who do not and never really could because of their socio-economic situations. Should they be denied opportunity because of this? Not in a truly liberal economy. Now that is not to say, as the progressives and socialists so often do, that we should make higher education free or introduce more affirmative action programs. Rather, the solution is recapturing the value of merit and experience, understanding that credentials are not everything. This is what will lead us to a freer, wealthier, and more equitable world.