What kind of competition?

Imagine an economy you preside over where everyone hones their skills in violin-making and produces violins. Everyone in the economy works really hard to make and sell violins. They do so many other things such as growing their own food, trying to sustain themselves, just to make violins. In the economy, there is no other markets; no one is producing food to sell, no one providing laundry services. Money is exchanged only to buy and sell violins. And only violins have a price.

That sounds absurd. Because if only violins have a price, then money is only worth violins. Then what is the value of money in this economy? Yet, without answering such questions, if we were to allow the metaphor to continue, say you are supposed to spur productivity of this economy, what would you do?

You could do things that enhance the labour productivity. This means everyone produces more violin in the economy, thereby driving the prices down and causing violins to be worth less vis-a-vis the currency in circulation.

Or you could start getting people to perform other work for others. That enhances productivity of the system overall as the ones good at violin making gets to outsource parts of their chores so that they are freed to make more violins. You allow more goods and services to be priced using money hence allowing more things to be exchanged and money becomes more valuable too. The higher productivity raises overall wealth measured in money and allows people to demand for more violins or pay more for them, enriching the violin makers.

Before I go further, you must be wondering what I’m talking about. I’m thinking about education, where grades are the only thing that matters, where students are expected to focus on grades despite having to fulfill other requirements such as CCAs, including sports, student activities, leadership activities, etc. All these while trumpeting that different students have different strengths and then consigning a future michelin-starred chef to the E-bucket and having him sent to vocational school.

Our system ties up and stifles talents, force everyone to be denominated and priced using just one attribute of their capability: intellect/academics (or test-taking). And so if you want to improve the system, do you still force everyone to produce more and better grades?