What a can of worms this is

Oxford students who take \’socially useful\’ jobs could have fees waived

The problem, of course, comes in the definition of \”socially useful\”.

Teaching and social work are suggested.

Hmm….would teaching in a private school be counted as \”socially useful\”? I have my doubts about that. And why would \”social work\” be counted as more socially useful than, say, pharmaceutical research into curing cancer?

Assume that climate change really is happening and also that creation of non carbon forms of energy generation are the solution. It would certainly be socially useful for engineers to work upon such forms of energy generation: some would say vital for the very survival of the species itself. Should not their fees be waved?

Take a concrete example: a particular form of fuel cell needs a particular metal to be found and processed in substantial (compared to current global production) quantities. There are a number of possible ways to do this and all require research so as to work out which will work and within that small class, which would be best. Should researchers, hired by myself for the sake of argument, have their fees waived?

For it would certainly be socially useful to have this metal extracted in those substantial quantities so that this form of fuel cell can be made and thus non (or at least low) carbon energy be generated.

Or if that is a little off the wall, how about installation of solar cells? We already subsidise this, claiming that to do so is socially useful. Ditto insulation installation.

To say nothing of the point that the entrepreneur creates huge social value (one estimate puts the social value created by an innovator at 97% of the total value created, only 3% going to the innovator) and large tuition debts will certainly be a brake upon taking entrepreneurial risks.

An alternative might be that those who go into low paying jobs should have their debts relieved. At which point they might want to have a serious little chat with their own economics department. Wages paid in a job are a useful proxy (only a proxy though, not an absolute measurement) of the value added by that job. So we really would rather that these brightest and best, those benefitting from one of the best educations on the planet, did not go into low paid jobs really: we\’d like them to be off where their human capital (that thing  which has been most expensively invested in) is most productive: where it is most valued. That is, in a nice high paying job.

In the end this is simply a product of the grand illusion: that something is worth other than what people are willing to pay for it. \”Social value\” is an attempt to do an end run around market values and as such is always doomed to failure. For market values are simply the sum of individual valuations and thus are the value that society collectively puts upon something.

13 thoughts on “What a can of worms this is”

  1. Brian, follower of Deornoth

    If they are having their fees waived, they would be willing to do the job for less money.


  2. Of course the opposite approach might be that somebody doing something socially useless like bidding up property prices ” not necessarily a splendid investment for the whole economy” ( the Tory Prime Minister) gets hit with a whacking great Land Value Tax .

  3. I think it should be that anyone studying sociology has to pay double at least. Anyone wanting to become a social worker should be marked with a tattoo on the forehead, just to warn the rest of us exactly what they are.

  4. Socially useful: an intersting concept.

    Who is it who pays people to do things that are useless (ie not wanted or not needed)?

    The only general case that I can think of is government.

    Best regards

  5. I can’t tell you what jobs are socially useful but I can tell you the ones that aren’t. Climate Change Manager at a council for one. 😉

  6. DBC Reed’s arguments can of course, be applied to any buyer or seller of something, not just land, but any commodity.

    This man’s ignorance of the value of arbitrage and the price mechanism is simply astounding.

  7. @JP
    I do my best but this is too,too much praise from one whose idea of the price mechanism is that the average working person must shoulder
    a lifetime debt of 100k GB quid not for his bricks and mortar but for the sterile land beneath.In effect the free born citizens of this country may enjoy all those liberties celebrated in his native Samizdata, trips to outer space in private rockets( not quite ready yet),holiday snaps of incredibly boring places (all too ready), but the right of residence in your own country is going to cost you big time.

  8. @DBC ”but the right of residence in your own country is going to cost you big time.”

    Yes, indeed it will, once we are all forced to be tenants of the State under LVT. If you think it will not come to that, then you are either lying or a useful idiot.

  9. This is just another way of enhancing the prospects of those in the “party” just another communist day, I would contribute to and student who organised a wild west style “necktie” party for socialists and their fascist ilk, that would be a real social service.

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