Observations, Policy

Should We Resurrect Mutual Improvement Societies?

Modern society, but primarily the engines of the modern economy and our hopeful ability to swim against the tide pushing us ever farther down into poverty, seems to require that we are always adding to our skill sets. The wisdom is that the world will change, and that we have little choice but to change with it. While I don’t find this to be on its face untrue (and I have little sympathy for those who can do something, but choose to do nothing to help themselves), I do have one question:

But if we are going to have to hone those metaphorical blades, how should we do it?

Photo by Dan Galvani Sommavilla on Pexels.com

A University Education

I will admit, I am a fan of a university education. It provides an experience, and a breadth of knowledge that only the best autodidacts can match. But they are expensive, and for those of us who can afford to trudge through the debt required to undertake one at all, are kind of a one time deal. It is not pragmatic for most people to keep collecting degrees over the course of a lifetime.

Professional Certifications

So next option is professional certifications. They are often touted as the cure all to rising college costs. Just get a certification! For most people, this is a reductive as in many fields the jobs that pay a living wage want both, and you may get a job because you had one in addition to your degree, but that is only because you are beating out someone who only has a college degree.

And that ignores the fact that they are only valuable when the job is one where there is a discrete skill set that can be proven by a test. It has to be fairly objective. The tech sector and the medial sector, among others, are already good at doing these types of assessments. So, these can be viable, if and only if they meet a few criteria:

  1. The certification has enough credibility in the industry that people believe that it actually proves competency in the skills it claims to, and it has to do that as a stand alone, or a reasonably achievable package. (e.g. – not three years of taking tests to achieve it)
  2. The certification(s), at least at basic levels, need to be accessible without a minimum number of years of work experience in the field. Yes, this is a thing that happens quite frequently, but that makes the point of adding to your skill set kind of null if all you are doing is proving what your resume will already tell, that you know how to do a job that you have been doing for several years.
  3. It has to be realistic to complete the certification in a reasonable span of time. which means that it has to be possible that a reasonably diligent person could complete it in a span of time appropriate for the amount of knowledge.
  4. It can’t be too expensive to keep people outside of it. If it costs too much to be accessible to a reasonably budgeted person, then it is not a viable option.

But the free market usually means that these things will be too expensive for many people. And it is the nature of professions to want to gate keep in order to keep their wages high. So the higher costs, years of experience and other measures suddenly make a lot of sense in that context. The more people in a job, the less valuable that labor will be. But honestly, we can’t do much about that system. I mean the system is broken, but you have to play in it right…..

Right?

The Mutual Aid Society

I would disagree. The system may be broken, but we do have a model that might be able to provide some of the benefits without the issues of the current structures of the system. While I am not for most of the ideas that came out of the 19th century (in fact, bad ideas abound in that era) there is a shining exception. Mutual Aid Societies, or at least an updated version, could be a massive help for the constant skill enhancements we are all stuck with. There were literally hundreds of them in their heyday, all of the designed to service the working class. Believe it or not, this is the real origin of the self-help movement.

So what if, we could establish a new Mutual Aid Society for people. Allow people who are knowledgeable to hold courses (lectures, hands on demonstrations, ect…) that all other members can attend for free… and then get proof that they attended. Maybe one session, would not count as much as a certification, but a portfolio of them could be valuable.

But that is only half of the idea. The second half would be open meetings…..salons… call them whatever you like. It would be a space for the free exchange of ideas. A place to discuss politics, religion, our ability to organize and self advocate without fear. It very much happened the last time that human tried this idea. And maybe that will be a benefit for us all to. The labor movement (in the sense of strong labor laws, unions, etc… not a specific political party) was a massive improvement to the quality of life on generations of people.

So maybe… its time to resurrect an old idea into a thoroughly modern decentralized institution.

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