Overcoming the market's failure to reward value

Sun, 15 Feb 2015

I’ve talked in this blog about the innate human desire to be useful, to be valuable (in a broad sense). That said, most people, myself included, struggle to find the best way to do it.

Most of us recognise that the market system doesn’t do a perfect job of pointing us to the most valuable job. We recognise that the market can easily encourage you to do things that are socially and environmentally destructive. And we recognise that there is a lot of valuable work that is undervalued by the market system.

Unfortunately the other systems for allocating people to jobs tend to be too vague to apply, or too subjective to appeal widely. I don’t like the idea of a government panel that tells people what to do. Being forced to do what your parents did seems unfair. And, to be honest, I’m sceptical about just praying and doing what I feel God is telling me - even if there is a God, I don’t trust myself to listen.

So, I’m not surprised that our market system still dominates out view on what is valuable. We moderate it slightly by scorning those that earn a lot of money at the expense of others, and trying to pay additional respect to those who do valuable but underpaid work. But largely, we send a message that only what the market rewards is valuable, and anything else should sit in a non-work bucket: volunteer work, family duties and leisure time.

I’m not happy with this message, but not sure of the best approach: do we look to improve the market’s ability to respect true value, or do we look to weaken the market’s dominance, and encourage greater respect and priority for work done in non-market settings? Can we do both simultaneously, or do we need to pick one to avoid undermining both?

And on an individual level, until society reaches a healthier situation, how should we ensure we spend our time doing our most valuable work?

Any ideas or suggested reading would be especially welcome.