What are some bad futures for teaching, learning, and campuses? With this post I’m continuing my series of educational dystopias.
3. Gilded Age 2.0
This dystopia is a world of extreme inequality. After the mid-twentieth century’s reduced imbalance of wealth, the new Gilded Age is a new age of inequality, led by the 1% and especially their own 1%, as described and foreseen by Thomas Piketty. The name echoes that of an earlier age of American economic oligarchy.
Unlike the cyberpunk dystopia, which also has high inequality, Gilded Age 2.0 offers solid political stability. States help maintain social order through a variety of tools and services, ranging from powerful bureaucracies, a guaranteed national minimum income, and surveillance.
The 1% make a show of conspicuous consumption, made especially conspicuous by digital media. Social order also depends on a degree of gerontocracy, most notably in practical politics and culture, due to demographic trends (decreased 1-18 population, increased seniors). Capital tends to accumulate with age, and family holdings tend to grow in size and influence; in Piketty’s neat formula, “The past devours the future.” (Capital, 571)
The world of work has shifted to emphasize service industries, as manufacturing declines and the information economy employs relative few people. On-demand computer-mediated human service enterprises loom large, such as Club Alfred. Automation is widespread, leading for the first time to widespread under- and unemployedment. Those out of work are politically pacified by public funds and media consumption. The latter teaches messages of stability and knowing one’s place.