Sunday, July 22, 2012

Seeing Beyond the Economic?

A lot has been made of the (potential) economic benefits that the Olympics are set to bring, not only to London but the whole of the UK. Even Scotland, it is claimed, will receive a sizeable economic boost. Moreover, it was recently announced that Sunday trading laws would be temporarily suspended in England and Wales, to allow shops to benefit from increased custom during the games.

It's difficult of course to quantify the economic benefits that may result from the Olympics, since it won't be clear whether particular contracts are due to the games or not or how the economy would have fared had the games not taken place. This has led some to question whether the benefits will be as significant as some (such as the government) claim - or, in other words, whether the money spent on the Olympics is really a worthwhile investment. Even if the Olympics do turn a profit, could that money have been better invested, say in infrastructure improvements?

Unfortunately I can't find a link to this, but it was somewhat gratifying this afternoon to hear a spokeperson on the radio saying, in effect, that even if the economic benefits of the games are negligible, they may be a good way of spending public money if people enjoy them. While I'm not sure myself that they are the best way to spend public money, it's pleasing to hear someone take a non-instrumentalist viewpoint.

Not everything we do ought to be driven towards making more and more money. Money ought to be a means to an end, not an end in itself. Indeed, if the only point of making money was to make more money then it would be arguably without a point - the point is that we can spend it to acquire other things that we value. Thus we ought to recognize that there are things that are worth spending money on, whether or not they produce an economic return.

If this thinking were to receive more recognition, then politicians might come to apply similar reasoning to education. Presently they almost invariably focus on providing the skills necessary for the economy, but education ought to do more than that: it ought to be something that is worth spending money on, rather than simply a means to making money.

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