Why Do We Value What We Value?

Value is a tricky thing. I was recently engaged in a discussion with an old friend on Facebook about a quote from President Obama. The sentiment expressed was noble, but I thought it was misplaced, especially as a graduate of Financial Peace University. Don't panic, this is not going to turn into a political discussion--but it is going to be about finance, and about how we value things. Hang in here with me. 545616_10151164828426749_1686390841_n

When I read that, I disagreed. Completely.

If you get an acceptance letter to, say, Harvard, and your career plan is to become a social worker, and you don't have the cash saved up to pay for your degree, then it's probably not a good thing for you to turn to the government and ask for the money. Because one of two things is happening:

  1. You're asking the taxpayers to give you a premium education for a degree that has very little earning power, so the return on investment is extremely low, or
  2. You're asking the taxpayers to underwrite loans for you, and if you're expecting to pay back $300-$500K in student loan debt with a $30-$40K per year job, then you're fooling yourself. The math just doesn't work.

This is not to say that low-paying jobs aren't important. The world needs social workers. And teachers. And sanitation workers. And firefighters and cops and EMTs.

For some reason, society does not value these jobs as highly as we do engineers and doctors and lawyers and salespeople. Thank God we have people who think these jobs are worth doing even at the piddly wage they pay!

A Question of Value

When I was a volunteer paramedic, we used to have an annual fund drive to raise money to keep our agency operating. Because we didn't charge for our services, that fund drive was about the only way we paid for fuel and equipment repair and supplies.

On average, a household might donate $50 if we could get someone to come to the door and listen to our pitch.

That same household probably spends thousands of dollars each year in homeowner's insurance.


  • Why would we rather pay an insurance company thousands than give that same amount voluntarily to the people who might help prevent the loss or damage in the fist place?
  • Why would we rather complain about the horrid state of the education system than pay for private school for our kids, or invest the time and effort to teach them ourselves?
  • Why would we rather see tax money used to help individuals rather than being used to improve the system for all?

I really don't understand. And I'd like to.

Your turn: Can you provide any insight into today's questions? Join the discussion and help me figure it out!