What's wrong with following the money?

Sun, 17 Nov 2013

Continuing on from my last post about inequality, I have been thinking a bit more about how we decide what gets done in the world and who is rewarded for it.

I studied a bit of economics at university, economics being the study of how scarce resources  (like people's time) are divided up. I was taught that capitalism provides the most efficient system of making these decisions.  We recognised it wasn't perfect, but depending on who you listened to, you either heard that laws and governments resolved the worst problems of capitalism, or that they were the main cause of the remaining problems we do have.

As I've been thinking more, I am no longer so convinced.  I perceive that so much time is being spent on activities that don't add much value, in high paid jobs, in low paid jobs, and by the unemployed. And they're generally not the activities that these people would actually want to be doing. But many of us have accepted the argument that everyone has a practical obligation to do the work that pays the most.

Before anyone accuses me of being too radical, I don't dislike everything about capitalism. In particular, I like that it gives people a significant amount of free will. Indeed, I'd suggest that this is one of the ways in which capitalism has survived, by letting us do worthwhile things that might not pay the most money.  But I'm convinced there are better approaches out there.

I often feel that there are unpaid jobs that contribute far more to society and the individual's sense of contribution than some of the available 'paid' jobs.  I'd love to know how we rearrange the system to support people taking these jobs.  And similarly, I'd love to know how we reduce the natural pressure among those with better paid jobs to increase working hours and blindly follow the career paths that maximise income.  So often we see people who've maximised their income, then spending much of it trying to compensate for a sense of purposelessness or connection with the community - it really doesn't make sense.

I'm sure this is a topic that I'll come back to again.