What would our life be like if we really believed that our wealth, our treasure, was our fellow human beings? Religious faith points to a God who takes most seriously, and values most extravagantly, the people who often look the least productive and successful — as if none of us could really be said to be doing well unless these people were secure. And as we look around in our own country as well as worldwide, this should trigger some hard questions...This year’s takes a similar theme, and raises the stakes to a global scale: —
There are fewer and fewer problems in our world that are just local. Suffering and risk spread across boundaries, even that biggest of all boundaries between the rich and the poor. Crises don’t stop at national frontiers. That’s one thing terrorism, and environmental challenge and epidemic disease have taught us. We share the risks. The big question is “Can we share the hopes and create the possibilities?” Because it’s when we do share the hopes that we really see what it is to belong together as human beings, discovering our own humanity as we honour the human dignity of others...The challenge to discover our own humanity as we honour the human dignity of others raises its own hard questions for a society in which the gap between rich and poor has, almost unbelievably, been widening these past thirty years. It calls to mind a report produced late last year by the New Economics Foundation — A Bit Rich: calculating the real value to society of different professions. In the spirit of progressive economics, it’s available free as a .pdf.
The report examines the real value to society of six very different jobs. These professions come with big mythic perceptions and assumptions in the great game of Careers — City banker, nursery worker, advertising executive, hospital cleaner, tax accountant, waste recycling worker.
The result isn’t a simple game of goodies and baddies, but it does challenge the Great Golden Myth of eighties yuppiedom.
In its purest form, the GGM tells us that a tiny elite of pangalacticaly superior individuals create wealth for society, which largely consists of lumpen drones and wasters. Any silly nonsense that these self-designated “Wealth Creators” care to indulge is thus, ipso facto, OK. Fairness, like taxes, is strictly for the little people. And the lesson of the past year or so is that not only is life in the golden dome golden, but largely consequence-free as well. Nice work if you can get it.
NEF’s report does not call into question the right to private property, or fair reward for labours and risks, or differential remuneration. It does, however, suggest we push the envelope beyond considerations of the naked cash nexus in assessing the social and environmental costs and benefits of all jobs.
So how do we account human worth? How should we? It’s as much about what we notice and our methods as the conclusions we reach...