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What kind of work do we want our society to do, part 2

My previous entry wondered what kind of work we wanted our society to do, and whether or not the job market was actually aligned with this. Of course the basic idea behind a market is that people pay according to what they like, so the job market should represent what people want insofar they are willing to pay for various kinds of work. According to this system, if you want more science or more art, you need to put up some money for it (or convince someone else to).

Both sides of the debate referred to in my previous entry prefer to appeal to a kind of supply-side economics: if only universities produced more science and technology graduates, then more science and technology would be done, and if they produced more arts and humanities graduates, then more arts and humanities would be done. But, as an entry of my old blog tried to explain, this leaves jobs-of-the-future commentators insisting that the world needs more science and technology graduates even while actual science and technology graduates complain about being unable to find work in their chosen fields. As I saw it, what the commentators really want to see is more science and technology being done—but in the absence of any actual money for doing science, graduates cannot be paid. The same could be said about insisting that the arts are important in the face of actual artists who struggle to make any money at all.

Many of the good things supposed to come from science and humanities educations aren’t things that people tend to pay for, at least not directly. For all the accolades heaped upon critical thinking and problem solving, or being an engaged member of civic society, I’ve never heard of anyone employed in the roles of “critical thinker” or “problem solver”, and hardly anyone gets paid to contribute well-informed and insightful comments at social gatherings or to the end of news articles on the Internet. Media that does pay for comment often seems as likely to pay for ill-informed and poorly-argued rants, or otherwise bland waffle asserting that the commentator likes this or doesn’t like that.

So how is all this this critical thinking, problem solving, and so on, going to get done while no one is paying for it? One might hope that a more highly educated population would simply do such things without specific encouragement, and this is part of the reason that we have public funding of education, even if the aforementioned Internet comments suggest that we have a long way to go. One of the early entries of this blog also speculated as to whether having more time might encourage greater civic participation, but I wasn’t able to find much research on this.

Having more time has allowed me, at least, to indulge more scientific and artistic endeavours than I might have otherwise—though I don’t know how the government might have felt had I took out an arts degree at public expense so that I could re-create mediaeval arts and crafts with my friends, or work on some novels yet to sell any copies. Still, I feel it’s getting further than merely insisting that more science or art needs to be done. It’s small compared to what might achieved by public or philanthropic funding, perhaps, but that would getting outside the scope of this blog.

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