Business Management

Michael Saylor: Free education is the solution to automation joblessness

From the globetrotting on his yacht and corporate jet, to the infamous parties, most of the stories you hear about Michael Saylor, CEO of MicroStrategy, revolve around his copious amounts of money and its resulting glamour. He is personally worth $500M. In 2015 he cut his $592,442 salary and bonus and was only paid in (ludicrously high end) perks which included personal use of the company aircraft (worth over a $100K) and tax benefits (to the tune of $76K).

This image, of course, precedes him and he therefore comes as something of surprise when I meet him in person at the Church House Conference Centre near Westminster Cathedral in central London. First off, the venue it a strange one. Part old fashioned public school, part government building, the seemingly endless series of function rooms are connected by a confusing labyrinth of snaking corridors and wooden staircases. Secondly, he is more excited about the idea of free education than anything else we talk about.

On the subject of MicroStrategy’s niche and future growth plans, he rattles off answers with composite ease, riffing on the competition and what differentiates his company from others in the marketplace (more on this shortly). But it is on the subject of a post-automation world – a pertinent topic by anyone’s reckoning – that he gets really animated. Saylor believes the answer isn’t Universal Basic Income or any of the other solutions proposed, but no cost learning for the unemployed.

“The worst case is you give people money to do nothing [UBI],” he explains. The other option is you give people money to do something that is “not needed” – in other words the kind of job creation schemes that governments often run in times of crisis. However, he believes if you spend the money on free education instead it could “help cure cancer” or any of the other massive social problems that won’t be solved by people with “undergraduate degrees alone”.

There are seven to eight billion people on the planet and only ten million PHDs, he says. “The world needs a billion PHDs.” Yet in the US these costs around $1M and that kind of money is simply not available for most people.

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