This weekend, I witnessed a conversation at a family meal that got me thinking. There was a discussion about the cost-effectiveness of social science research. It is obvious that when a university institution, for example, invests funds in research into a type of cancer, it is likely to eventually produce results that are of interest both to science and to the advancement of the patient’s cure. But what happens when you invest money, personnel and time in research, for example, social relations in the neighbourhood, the era of disinformation, the evolution of house design or social tribes and their influence on art? Some people think that this type of analysis is not profitable and its conclusions look good in books and encyclopaedias, even as study material for future research, but they do not contribute real, quantifiable value to society.
The problem is how to value profitability, or rather, why value things only in terms of economic profitability. If we were to think only in terms of money, efficiency, results, there would be many aspects and even people that would seem useless to us and that we would discard because they are not profitable for society. But this vision would do a disservice to the already self-interested and utilitarian society we are building.
Without Anthropology we would not know man, without Philosophy we would not have asked ourselves the why of things, without Sociology we would not understand how human beings relate to each other, without Art we would not value creativity or the abstract aspects of life.
A youth centre is not profitable, each minor costs society about £100 a day, £36,500 a year, but the community makes every effort to ensure that the young people who have ended up there are able to obtain sufficient tools to integrate into society and be good men in the future. And I can think of many other examples like this one. We cannot think in terms of profitability when what is at stake is the person.
It is very sad that we are only able to pay attention when life is measured in figures. Institutions such as ours devote enormous efforts to defend and foster the well-being in homes without which the individual would not achieve the balance necessary to survive in this world that demands so much profitability.