I go back to when our societies were groups of between 50 and 100 individuals. In those tribes, education had a ‘blank check’ in the sense that the youngsters spent their entire existence learning from everyone in the tribe: how to build the necessary technology, how to avoid poisonous plants, how to find food, etc.. In our large and complex (both physical and technological) societies, the delivery of education has become specialized, as has everything else we do. The majority of our education is not integrated into society’s day-to-day occupations.
This specialization means that we have to fund it separately from other aspects of our daily lives — in our past, the entire village was invested in the education of the next generation — now, however, most childless individuals, and even those with children, want to minimize their contribution to education. The result, in America at least, is an underfunded education system (except for the rich) that seems to hate its underpaid teachers, and often runs out of money before the end of the school year, causing the schools to close.
So yes, if society was to invest properly in education, then the 4th wave, or knowledge economy could be a roaring success, but without it all we get is the destruction of the middle class, the widening of the wealth gap, and a reduction in Human well-being.
But even if we were to maximize our investment in education, we would still be left with the problem of those who are just not capable of learning enough to participate in the new economy, even at the lower levels — you only need so-many hamburgers flipped. What do we do with that chunk of Humanity?
Back to our primitive society again. In those societies, there is archaeological evidence that the old, the sick, the lame, and likely even the stupid were allowed to share in the wealth of the society. When you muse that “artists and data scientists will be the last worthwhile career choices”, you introduce the problem of what to do with those that despite the best possible education can’t be those things? The only solution that I can conceive of, is to share more with those that are left out of the economy, whether it’s their fault or not. That could easily be done if society demands that CEOs not be paid 500 times their company’s average worker salary.
The gains that come from improved productivity as a result of technology, have not been fairly shared throughout society. If our early societies had not shared resources with all their members, there would have been too much conflict and turmoil to allow the society to advance and grow. The gigantic income gap in America is stopping it from advancing and growing.