The Test of Social Utility

Here is my criterion to determine whether a job or occupation deserves to exist: does it contribute something of value of the community, to the society or the nation. I call it the test of social utility. Surely, lots of others must have had the same idea, but I haven’t seen them so far.

It seems to me that any work that contributes toward the maintenance or betterment of society as a whole is work that is worthy, whether humble or exalted, and should be supported with helpful laws and a positive public attitude. Conversely, any work that has a negative effect on society fails the test, and should be illegal and shunned by all people.

Does it contribute something of value.

Consider common criminal activities, such as car theft, drug dealing, burglary, and so on. These make negative contributions to society, removing value from the common good, and are rightfully unlawful, because they fail the test of social utility and harm their victims, who are ultimately the rest of us. But other jobs that fail the test are not so obvious.

Certain people have said that nearly half of the population are worthless moochers, who are too lazy to contribute anything toward social wellbeing. They (we) prefer to live forever on welfare, and never work a day in our life. How true is that?

Not at all, it turns out. Not that there aren’t lazy people; there are plenty in Congress. Figures that are bandied about by conservative pundits purport that welfare comes to some $168 per day, nearly 50-grand a year. This nonsense, a figure dreamed up by conservative think tanks counts disaster relief and similar non-welfare moneys as welfare payments. By the time it was filtered through Republican congressional staff and put out for inflation by gasbag pundits, those who are in dire trouble are found to be actually rolling in dough, to their great surprise.

It’s very easy to demonstrate social utility.

What’s more, there are many who claim that generation after generation of families live totally on welfare. They seem to have forgotten that there is a general lifetime limit of five years for welfare receipt.

But that’s a distraction. The fact is, the desire to work and earn a living is strong and all but universal, notwithstanding the lethargic in Congress and elsewhere. And those being publicly supported are mostly the aged, the ill, the injured, the disabled, students, or children. The remainder are between jobs or are so badly underpaid they cannot escape poverty.

A number of occupations clearly fail
the test of social utility.

Unfortunately, there are a number of other occupations that clearly fail the test of social utility. Here’s some of them: hedge fund financing, derivatives banking, computerized trading. (For a glimpse of what one-half second of computerized trading in one stock looks like, click here. Millions of such trades occur every second.) There are other unworthy jobs, but these three seem to me to be occupations that cannot demonstrate that they perform a socially useful service in spite of the mega-riches they provide for their purveyors. They do not improve business or commerce. The money they earn does not benefit the public; nobody other than themselves and their investors benefits. They function for the sole purpose of making themselves and their clients rich, and the richest of them, hedge fund manager David Tepper, did so to the tune of $2,200,000,000 last year. That comes to $2,203 per second, and without doubt is one of a number of factors that have boosted our inequality to a level seen last in Tsarist Russia.

Hedge fund financers, derivatives bankers,
trading bankers, and certain others
cannot demonstrate 
that they perform
a socially useful service.

The thing is, it’s super-simple to show that your work benefits society. Anyone who cleans things, sells things, moves things, tests things, and so on, is obviously contributing to the betterment of society, no matter how humble the work. Bankers make things possible. Auto mechanics keep us rolling. Business folk keep our cities humming. Safety experts keep us from running into each other.

But there are far too many at the upper edge of income whose work provides no genuine benefit to society as a whole. Instead, they benefit only themselves, with enormous sums of money, money that nobody can possibly claim they actually earn. The occupations that fail the test of social utility appear to fall into two categories: crime and money manipulation.


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