Galt’s Gulch, Higher Education, and the Blockchain

In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (cue snark), the builders and independent thinkers escape to Galt’s Gulch whilst a constellation of communists and conformists grind society to a halt.

It’s been a minute since I read the book, but over the last couple of years the notion of Galt’s Gulch has popped up in my conversations with friends — particularly when discussing higher education for our children.

Most of my friends are operating under the assumption that a conventional university education is the path for their children to attain “success.”

I don’t think that will be the case in ~15 years, when my — and most of my friends’ — children will reach college age.

In part, this is a function of the deterioration in the quality of supply.

For instance, Gallup research reveals that less than 50% of college graduates succeed in finding purposeful work, while the proportion of Americans who deem college to be “very important” declined from 70% in 2013 to 51% in 2019. If the “product” were better, these figures would be higher.

Moreover, it’s manifest that the meritocracy trap already consigns many elite university graduates to misery.

It’s also a function of market demands for / of university graduates. There are, of course, the well-trodden discussions about the mismatch between employers’ needs and college graduates’ capabilities.

But if the reports of a declining commitment to free speech and free inquiry on campuses are to be believed, then I think the innovative companies a decade from now will shun recruiting from them. 

They will value capabilities, curiosity, and critical thinking above class, conformity, and credentials.

Alas, whilst the demand for “right-thinking” individuals may be high amongst today’s academic, corporate, and government institutions, the entrepreneurs and investors building the future seem to abhor it.

In recent months, my Instagram feed has been polluted with Ivy League business schools’ advertisements for online courses about fintech. They charge ~$3,500 for a course taught by faculty members who haven’t built fintech companies.

In contrast, the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz — which raised $515 million for its second crypto fund in April — offers an online Crypto Startup School. It’s free.

The more I read about blockchain, smart contracts, and decentralized finance, the less relevant a college degree seems.

The internet continues to democratize access to knowledge, information, and data. We’re in the very early stages of migrating toward an entirely new internet — one that is open, decentralized, and contains extraordinary possibilities for the reconfiguration and exchange of value.

Indeed, it seems that numerous entrepreneurs and investors in this space are receding from today’s prominent platforms to engineer tomorrow’s.

The competition for work — amongst humans and against robots / AI — could very well get intense. A commitment to lifelong education is paramount.

But the credential of a university degree?

I have my doubts.