Developing such a climate is usually more important than learning rational or quantitative techniques.The failure of higher education, in the view of the authors, to foster creativity, flexibility and connectedness is a significant impediment. This view echoes recent comments by Tom Boland CEO of the HEA. He was quoted, recently, in the Irish Times as saying:
…our second-level system is producing students who learn to the test; who in ever greater numbers are not learning to think for themselves; who receive spoon-feeding at second level and expect the same at third
A new way of education is proposed by Bradley and Kennelly – one that places much greater emphasis on the how and why and not just the what. Learning to do, to work with others and to develop one’s own thinking and capacity are central to a truly ‘utilitarian education’ Quoting Paddy Lynch who quoted Jacques Maritain (p 185) –
.,. the trouble with purely utilitarian education was that it was not utilitarian enough!
Bradley has written, elsewhere, of the importance of freeing undergraduate students in higher education to be more inquisitive and to develop skills and capacities that are frequently confined to types of postgraduate training and research.
The central role of education – which includes schooling but is not the only mileu in which education or learning happens – comes across strongly in chapters 4 and 5. The economists’ short-hand is ‘human capital. In the following chapter 6 ‘Realising the Potential of Cultural and Social Resources’ Bradley and Kennelly discuss what they term ‘cultural capital’ and ‘social capital’. These concepts have enjoyed iconic status in many quarters – political as well as academic. Clarity around their meaning and relevance to political economy is important. One implication is that local or national ‘peculiarity’ is a potentially strong business asset – argue the authors. This echoes Lars Mjoset's thesis in the 1993 NESC study which underlined the role of a national innovation culture. In the way, ‘social capital’ is discussed, it emerges as symbolic term for important realities at work in society, communities and economic organisations. It does not lend itself, easily, to quantitative measurement or monetisation (hence the difficulty many economists have in applying the term). Curiously, the first known use of the term ‘social capital’ was in Das Kapital even though Marx did not use the term in the sense it was used much later by Hanafin, Coleman, Bourdieu and Putnam.
A related concept to that of social capital is ‘citizenship’ (or more accurately active, democratic citizenship). The authors write:
Citizenship implies sharing resources, not maximising one’s own interest.They posit two ways of organising business (and implicitly public service):
They round off the book with a chapter titled in a catchy way: ‘Centenary 2022 – from independence to interdependence’ A key idea is that we need to draw on unique cultural and community-based resources emphasising civic values and generosity. This would inform a better understanding and orientation in respect of economic development with a purpose rather than growth in GDP as an end in itself.
- The dominant one informed by rationalism, analysis and scientific verification.
- The alternative one informed by conversations, networks, emotions and ‘interpretation’(a term they take from Richard Lester and Michael Priore)
The authors rightly acknowledge that Ireland, unlike Denmark, left economy and society vulnerable because ‘Irish Government spending has not grown in tandem with the pace of globalisation’. This is a key point and one that deserved more focus throughout the book.
The authors challenge, directly, the IBEC line that Ireland’s competitive advantage lies mainly in its ‘skilled workforce, a favourable tax regime and an enterprise-focussed business environment’ (p106). They go on to point out that:
To all practical purposes, Estonia has no corporate income tax and its bureaucracy is benign: when a problem arises, ‘the government just steps in to let investors do their thing’
Sounds familiar…..and Estonia has its problems nowadays as we do. More in my next post ....