The Superstar Theory of Increasing Inequality

Posted on 11. Dec, 2007 by jon in Education, Revolution

Interesting post from my favorite econ blogger Greg Mankiw:

The basic idea, originally from labor economist Sherwin Rosen, is that technological change now allows the highest quality producers to service a larger share of the markets in which they operate. If Jon Stewart is the funniest guy around, television allows the entire world to enjoy his comedy. This gives Stewart a huge income but leaves little for second-tier comics.

This “superstar theory” of inequality has never applied to teaching because technology has never really been meaningfully applied to education. But that’s about to change.

For instance, look at South Korea as a harbinger of what’s to come (as Aydin Senkut is doing). In South Korea companies like Megastudy (fascinating article here) are starting to turn teachers into rock stars. These teachers are featured on billboards, have fan clubs and can (unbelievably it seems) make seven figures a year.

It’s quite simple. Technology = Scale. No technology (Ghost of Education Past) = No scale. Technology (Promise of Education Future) = Scale.

Another example can be seen in the movie The Inconvenient Truth. In that movie Al Gore is essentially teaching (Global warming being the subject, the accuracy of his teaching and viewpoint decidedly not the subject of this blog post). Prior to the making of the movie he was touring the country teaching a (relatively) small number of people and making a (relatively) small amount of money doing so. The movie (i.e. technology) allowed him scale and greater returns whether measured in impact or dollars.

Education of the future is going to look a lot more like Al Gore than what you might have remembered from high school. It’ll be moving in a direction where the top performers make significantly more than average performers (a stark contrast from today). The sea change may take decades. Or it might happen a lot faster. Regardless of how swift or gradual this change is it’ll be a lot of fun to watch.

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  • fun to watch, and fun to help make happen!

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