Rational Thinking

Certain commodities available to the population of the world are subject to being rationed when they are in limited supply. Even in the UK, we ‘suffer’ the constant threat of not being able to use our hose pipes. Other things are provided on a ‘pay as you go’ system, which in effect rations people to stick to what they are prepared to afford.
The fact is that we take much for granted which is not possible in other parts of the world. Drinkable water, electricity, telephone lines – all of these are commodities we arguably have got used to abusing in our society, content with having them ourselves, with little regard for others around the world for who they are not readily available.
When we are faced with the idea of rationing anything, even for the sake of saving the planet, we often fail. It was not always like this, but over half a century on from a society confined to living within its means because of serious limitations due to war, we have become greedy, haven’t we?
We consume, consume and then some. We are encouraged to, because spending is what the people have to do to boost the economy. Even those on the breadline, receiving benefits from the state, plough their money back into the economy. Even though we are urged to think about consumption of fuel, energy and sometimes water, among other things, we continue our devouring of consumables at a relentless pace, far in excess of much, but not all of the rest of the world.
We are paying for our public services, consuming them. Some of them we do not use enough and they are scaled down – notably library and museum services. Some are not big enough to cope with the demand – notably social services. The future outlook is such that we will have more older people in this country by 2020 than younger people, and we do not yet know how we will manage whatever demands there will be.
But energy and utilities aren’t the only things to be consumed – rationed as they are indirectly by cost, rather than ethical behaviour. Our entitlement to stimulation and engagement is seen increasingly as something for the third or private sectors to provide, often on a commercial basis. The problem with this is that it is impossible to pay for everything directly at full cost over the increasing lifespan and some things will need to be low cost or free to the user. Thirty years of active ‘retirement’ is a long time to make any kind of fixed income last.
Therefore, I would suggest, we need to think of things differently. We cannot expect government to magic funding out of thin air to provide for our hedonistic needs. But engagement and stimulation are not necessarily hedonistic, and, in the context of learning/educational experiences, they have a value to those receiving them and to society as a whole. There are even strong arguments being honed supporting the theories that the costs of providing such activity can be offset in part by saving made elsewhere. How so? Well, there are a number of examples we could put forward, but here is just one:
Mrs A gets involved with an activity W. Activity W provides company for her and opportunities to socialise outside of her house. Activity W also requires some tools and materials to be brought. Acitvity W provides income for the Tutor, a reason for Centre M to exist, income for utility companies etc. Activity W makes people mobile so they have to use public transport. Activity W has a tea break during which drinks and cakes are shared. Participating in Activity W, Mrs A is happy to be doing something. They have a reason for leaving the house. Mrs A is stimulated and active. Mrs A uses up more calories. Mrs A’s enhanced lifestyle is less likely to lead to burdens on the health service including depression, immobility, early senility etc. Mrs A is happier and is less of a burden on her family who otherwise would be seeing her as incresingly dependent on their time…
What this crude scenario shows is that there are other reasons government should bother with lifelong learning. Nothing has been mentioned of the direct learning benefit to Mrs A of acquiring skills – the usual ‘capital asset’ put forward for such activity. Every teabag consumed makes a difference, and it is the fact that there should be, frankly, millions of Mrs As around the country whose engagement and stimulation reaps these benefits for their communities and the economy as a whole.
Education for adults is hardly on the radar these days as a commodity. It could bring serious benefits itself. As a rare commodity, it perhaps does need rationing. Currently is is rationed by chance, rather than by design. There is simply not enough of it to go around. Rationing gives something a sense of value. Many people in our society consume far more education than others, or at least consume and don’t reap the benefits. The reasons for this are serious and need addressing. The irony is that, later in life, education can become immensely beneficial for individuals and society in prolonging active life and keeping people away from services, yet all we invest in is mainly within the first eighteen years of life. Adults often need just a prod andf they can be away. One decent art course, for instance, might lead to a good few years of expression on the canvas.
If we can see beyond the economic short term, we might realise there is a long term future ahead. A LIfelong Learning Ration Book might well be an option!