Dreaming spires meet the pin factory

All too true. But how far and how fast.

A university education is still a prerequisite for entering some of the great guilds, such as medicine, law and academia, that provide secure and well-paying jobs. Over the 20th century these guilds did a wonderful job of raising barriers to entry—sometimes for good reasons (nobody wants to be operated on by a barber) and sometimes for self-interested ones. But these guilds are beginning to buckle. Newspapers are fighting a losing battle with the blogosphere. Universities are replacing tenure-track professors with non-tenured staff. Law firms are contracting out routine work such as “discovery” (digging up documents relevant to a lawsuit) to computerised-search specialists such as Blackstone Discovery. Even doctors are threatened, as patients find advice online and treatment in Walmart’s new health centres.

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These changes will undoubtedly improve the productivity of brain-workers. They will allow consumers to sidestep the professional guilds that have extracted high rents for their services. And they will empower many brain-workers to focus on what they are best at and contract out more tedious tasks to others. But the reconfiguration of brain-work will also make life far less cosy and predictable for the next generation of graduates.

Economist

Post by Jonathan Rees

Clinical academic and skin watcher at the University of Edinburgh

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