(*plays sad violin music*)
This isn’t out of aggressive pessimism, or an altruistic idealism to give all of my money to Children In Need, but because of that, apparently constitutionally-binding, bit of human society that determines that some jobs and qualifications will always be better-paid than others.
The obvious example is a footballer; an ‘average’ Premiership footballer is likely to earn more in t their lifetime than an ‘excellent’ shelf-stacker. However, this makes sense for the most part: you can debate the intellectual fulfilment of rolling a sphere around a lawn, but the fact is that they provide a highly lucrative form of entertainment for millions of people around the world, which shelf-stackers do not. You can even get into the economic argument that footballers provide around £1bil to the UK economy, whereas the pittance that we pay Tesco employees means they can’t really make such large-scale contributions to the global economy.
Yet, there are differences between relatively similar professions with greater discrepancies that make less sense to me; this reliable source suggests that English graduates earn £18,286 a year, while Law students can get £19,629 and French graduates can take home £20,215; based on my A-Level choices, I could have done all of these subjects at University, so picking Law over English won’t change me as a person, but it will change how much money I can earn for being that same person.
Furthermore, 35% of Politics graduates are employed in a graduate job, compared to 28% of English ones according to this table which, in a time of economic belt-tightening, could be a big difference.
And while I understand that a Medic or Lawyer has greater practical worth to a society than a writer, as they provide tangible health and legal services, why the discrepancy between commentators on politics, and commentators on literature? Is it not equally valid and practically unnecessary to discuss the implications of real political decisions through an essay as it is to discuss those same implications through fictional characters and society-wide themes?
Obviously, this post will change nothing, nor do I want it to – when I signed up for an English degree I was well aware of the impending necessity of budgeting my food and the strong likelihood of living at home after my degree – but I do find it interesting how money, the universally recognised means by which we reward achievement or excellence, is both divided up for jobs of a different practical value, and within jobs of seemingly similar practical values.
You could point to minute differences between professions, that Politics degrees feed more directly into a job in politics than English degrees feed into jobs as novelists, but there might be another reason for this, that we find more intrinsic value in excellence that we think affects us, even if it makes little practical difference. The lessons we learn from politics and literature may be broadly similar, but people think that politics is more directly involved in our lives, and so are more prepared to offer jobs and high pay to those that know about it, even if the literature student may actually be better in their field.
The question, then, is if we cannot be tangibly rewarded for our excellence in the universally-recognised form of money – you can tell a wealthy person by a glance at their clothes and accessories, but you can’t see who’s a badass at analysing poetry without some knowledge of the subject and the time to quiz them on it – how can we be rewarded for the things we like?
I’m not doing an English degree for some vague sense of ‘intellectual fulfilment’, or even that much out of a ‘passion for literature’; I like life, and I like pointing out its flaws, and an English degree is, to my seventeen-year-old mind, the best means to discuss life, and have a fun time doing it.
Because in the end, life is confusing, lonely and scary; I am simply choosing to follow the age-old advice of ‘Have a good time. All the time.’