I’m coming back to the ongoing discussion with Thomas Byrne on the rationale for public funding for education.  He has been responding int he comments to the blog, but I think the points he raises are interesting and level headed, so they deserved a good airing.  He’s in white, I’m in blue (as usual)

Who says education should be valued purely in terms of the financial returns it brings? On the free market, people spend money on things if they value them highly enough. If education makes people richer, they’ll buy it for the value that brings. If education has value in itself, people will buy it for that reason too. There’s no rule saying people can only spend money on things that bring a financial reward.

But your market can only exist and be free if there are people with capacity and willingness to pay for your goods, and, as politicos, we take decisions to regulate the market so that there can be good social results from its operation. I’m sure there are stunning market-orientation arguments for heroin to be legalised, but we don’t because we reckon there enough feeble. ignorant slow tards running the government without having more on the street. If it’ll creater debt, or will massively reduce the number of free-roaming graduates to fill in the surfeit of ‘fuzzy’ jobs out there, a conservative government will quite rightly place curbs on the market. The “if education has value in itself” argument is specious, because you know what happens to supply when effective demand dries up, which then creates changes in goods demanded.

Those fuzzy jobs, by the way, are enormous in number.  I define a fuzzy job as one where there is a level of flexible intellect and education required through training of the mind (which I think university does quite well) for the position, but for which there are no obvious extant qualifications, nor corporations tripping over themselves to pay for them.  We benefit froma generally high level of qualification int hei country, but by no means as high a level of qualification as some other countries.

 Countries are not entities which can benefit from anything – only the individuals in them are.

That’s just silly, isn’t it? We use countries as shorthand for the people who live within their boundaries, and I don’t see how an abstract argument helps here. I use ‘country’ as shorthand for its people, I hope that’s understood.

So unless it simultaneously satisfies the preferences of every single member of the country, it’s going to make some people better off at the expense of others.

That, following on from the previous comment, makes no sense and is your argument’s greatest hostage to fortune.  We aren’t dealing with guns and butter here: it is possible to analyse benefits in terms of GDP/C or lifestyle changes, or reductions in death rate… All of those are bloody good indicators of positive or negative outcomes from policy. If you can measure it, then do, because metrics are everything when determining the value of policy. So if we measured the death rate, GDP/C etc after your policy, and they had had negative changes, the policy, ceteris paribus, would be a bollocks one.

I’m not saying it is, I’m just saying that it is possible to determine societal results from policy.

And seeing as there is no rational way of making interpersonal utility comparisons, there’s correspondingly no way of telling whether an action has ‘societal benefit’ or not. I’ll tackle it in more detail tomorrow. 🙂