There’s Something Funky About Mr Cheese: Education and Minimalistic Living

Philosophy & Ethics, Politics & Public Debate

It’s been reported recently that a great portion of UK graduates find themselves in non-graduate roles. The numbers vary depending upon where they’re sourced (1, 2), but the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) find this to be the case for 59% of graduates. On top of that, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) reports that while graduate employment is increasing, graduate salaries are decreasing. Our once financially accessible, comprehensive education system has caused an imbalance. We are now inundated with ‘over-qualified’ and ‘underpaid’ workers. This is apparently a bad thing, and undoubtedly provides the government with ammunition as they continue to make higher-education less financially feasible.

“The assumption that we will transition to a more productive, higher value, higher skilled economy just by increasing the conveyor belt of graduates is proven to be flawed. Simply increasing the qualification level of individuals going into a job does not typically result in the skill required to do the job being enhanced – in many cases that skills premium, if it exists at all, is simply wasted.”      Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD.

However, we ought to ensure that education and qualification are not conflated, nor used in politico-economic equivocations. They are very much separate things, valuable in their own distinct ways. Indeed, whilst someone may well be overqualified, no one can ever be overeducated. Such a thing just doesn’t exist. The idea that education is only valuable insofar as it provides us with routes to prosperity is flawed (such sentiments perfectly encapsulate the nature by which our democracy is cannibalised by our economic culture). Education has many more advantages other than simply enhancing one’s qualifications. It provides the ability to navigate complex moral scenarios. It enables informed democratic participation. It facilitates compassion and understanding. Education provides the tools with which we can properly avoid or manage conflict. Qualifications provide little value in comparison.

So, whether they realise it or not, Mr Cheese, the BIS and the political arguments their reports endorse, all of them are firing blanks. The key to this professed problem is not to discourage education, nor to make it less accessible. Rather, it is to encourage a culture that embraces education as it is, valuable in and of itself. A culture which, as a benefit of being educated, is versatile, inclusive, resourceful and sustainable. Hence why I do not believe that a country containing a considerable number ‘over-qualified’ graduates is a bad thing. The same goes for working a job that is well within the limits of one’s capabilities. You can have a PhD and be shopkeeper, a dustbin-man, a cleaner. That’s fine. Your qualification might have gone to waist but your education certainly has not.

In fact, given the tremendous contributions extravagant lifestyles pay towards the destruction of our biosphere, living a little more minimalistically is nothing short of applaudable. It ought to be encouraged even. When the common conception of a good job is one that pays well, something has gone awry. Higher earners, with their gas-guzzling cars and imported goods, their hasty purchasing and disposal of needless novelty products, their Christmases, Valentines Days, Easters, Halloweens, not to mention several dozen somewhat insignificant celebrations dotted in-between, their urgent desire to buy bigger, better, more – the higher earners definitely contribute more to global warming. Far from speculation, this is simply the truth of the matterSomewhere in the region of 26% of all the UK’s emissions are created by domestic and international transport, imports and exports. The more you consume, the greater your involvement in that statistic. The typical Brit will emit as much CO2 in one day as a Kenyan will in a year. The average American emits 2000 times more than someone living in Chad. Such statistics seem a little extreme, but they definitely highlight the point. Aren’t their any limits to the excessive compulsions of those who have a little doe? The culture we’ve been raised in demands us to consume. It says, earn more, buy more, eat more – repeat, and sells it all under a light of good intention, but tells us little of the wider ruinous effects it has on the natural world, the poor and underprivileged, indigenous communities, and future generations. Minimalism, or at least living a little less extravagantly, given our currently fragile position, is now a moral requirement.

This is why the statistics surrounding graduate employment are to some extent encouraging. How can we expect anything less if this is what is morally required of us? By embracing minimalism and realising the true value of education as something entirely distinct from any qualification it may or may not underpin, the concept of over-qualification becomes entirely redundant. So too does the notion that a broadly accessible, comprehensive education system can produce anything other than desirable effects on the whole.

As soon as I read these reports I could smell that there was something a little funky with Mr Cheese and his gang. Their equivocations failed to go undetected.

A.C. Stark




The Road to Ruin (The Impending Overpopulation Crisis)

Politics & Public Debate
“[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” – John Stuart Mill

In 2015 the People’s Republic of China ended its 35 year old one-child policy. Having broadened the laws surrounding procreation, resident families are now permitted to have two children. This, of course, is worthy of celebration. The one-child policy created a disproportionate infanticide-obsessed China, with vastly more men than women and a rapidly ageing older generation. Though, many see this as only a minor victory. Don’t people have the right to have as many or as few children as they desire? Surely, any restriction on procreation is immoral or unjust, a restriction on liberty, an infringement of human rights.

Whilst I too condemn infanticide, I fail to recognise the strength of arguments in favour of unrestricted procreation. So, I’ll get to my point (as if you hadn’t guessed it already): Our right to procreate is not, neither should it be a universal human right. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that we are not, morally speaking, at liberty to procreate willy-nilly. Why? Because limitless procreation in a world of finite resources necessarily leads to the mathematical problem of overpopulation. And that problem is presently lurking. As it stands today overpopulation is seen exclusively in parcels – in relatively small segregated communities, subsets of the global populace. These communities’ demands for food and resources outweigh their net supply of those available. That being said, in a global context overpopulation is not yet an issue. Indeed, the world produces enough food to feed more than 10 billion mouths, some 30 to 40 percent more than is required (these numbers are a little loose but still tell a horrific injustice). But this doesn’t merit us ignoring it. Rather, it tells us that we have the power to take preventative rather than reactionary measures.

It’s rather obscure as to whether the situation in China is a consequences of reactionary or preventative action. What is certain is that China’s one-child policy was implemented in part to prevent a relapse of the Great Chinese Famine. Between 1958 and 1962, 45 million people died from starvation, hunger-related disease, murder and in some instances cannibalism. On top of that, 40 million babies were unborn (again, these numbers are a little shaky, but the magnitude of this tragedy is somewhat comparable to that of the Second World War which took the lives of 60 million). As a result of Chairman Mao Zedong’s vision to empower China through population growth and then to embark upon The Great Leap Forward, the people of China were condemned to enacting a pilot program of mass overpopulation. The horrors which unfolded were unprecedented and almost immeasurable.

Imagining what such a disaster would look like on a global scale is nigh-on impossible. However, looking at such things in statistical terms can sometimes enable us to understand them a little clearer. So here it is: During the Great Chinese Famine the amount of lives lost compared to somewhere in the region of 10% of the entire Chinese population at the time (to round down!). If such a famine happened today on a global scale 700,000,000 lives would be lost. That’s seven hundred million fatalities. An enormous number. And these aren’t quick deaths. We’re not talking about pressing a switch which simply takes seven hundred million people out of ever existing. We’re talking about the sluggish toil; the gradual, harrowing journey towards fatal starvation. A scenario so dire it inspires an impulse to eat anything whatsoever. Trash, bark, mud, bodily remains. But like I said, as it is, the world is far from overpopulated (if only in numerical terms). That being said, our population continues to increase dramatically. So, let’s look at some fairly standard population projections and see what the world might look like in the not too distant future.

The UN predicts that the world’s population will increase from 7 billion to roughly 10 billion by 2050, possibly to even 13 billion by 2100. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, demands for food will increase by 70% by 2050 as a result of having to feed around 200,000 more mouths every single day. This in turn increases our demands on agriculture and industry. Harvests are required to produce higher yields subsequent to an increase in food, medicine and multiple other recourse requirements. Rather than investing in sustainable life-giving methods, up-scaling our agricultural systems typically involves clearing rare and precious forestland (up to 58,000 square miles of forestland is lost each year; that’s 48 football fields per minute!). At present, approximately 40% of the land-surface is dedicated to agriculture. If we assume that the same agricultural methods remain in 2050, ≃68% of all the worlds land-surface will be dedicated to agriculture. I’ll not project these figures into 2100. Though, undoubtedly, they’d paint a pretty bleak picture.

With an increasing need for forested areas in order to tackle the effects of climate change and to create carbon capture and storage sinks, there’s just not enough land to go around. Indeed, without appropriate and careful changes to how we utilise our rural areas the quality of our soils, with help from a rising climate, having already deteriorated over recent decades, will continue to degrade. This doesn’t bode well for the people of 2050. Where on earth will they get their food if their most precious commodity, that upon which their harvests depend, dies? Undeniably, a world that destroys its soil destroys itself. But I stray from the point. Global warming is one of, if not the most pressing issue the world has ever faced. We are yet to feel even a fraction of its true force. If we fail to curb our emissions, which even the most incongruous of persons can see is probable, the likelihood of global overpopulation increases greatly. With the desolation of vast rural and urban areas resultant from violent weather systems, the collapse of industry, a global recession, food, water and aid all in short supply, it’s clear that we’ll be unable to sustain a standard of living similar to that to which we have become accustomed. Yet, even if global warming were a myth, at some point in the future, in the absence of any formal or natural population control, an analogous scenario would still come to fruition. Without a cap on procreation we would almost certainly find ourselves in a state of global overpopulation. The fact that global warming is a reality means that our currently being on the verge of overpopulation stands only to intensify its effects; it stands only to produce more suffering in the long run.

Especially given the evident inevitability of our world being ravaged by climate change, I’d propose that a child-cap policy is, contrary to popular belief, a morally good thing. What China is doing by sticking to their guns and not permitting unadulterated procreative freedom is, in my eyes, commendable. Relatively speaking, if there are fewer mouths to feed, there are more resources to share. With more resources we could delay succumbing to the effects of overpopulation, giving us a little more time to mitigate the consequences of and/or adapt to climate change. This would prevent a great degree of additional and unnecessary suffering.

Whilst we’ve been raised to be wary of eastern political sentiments, when it comes to China’s child-cap policy we have something to learn. Yes, it remains controversial subject, but political intervention on such matters is not as radical as it once seemed. It is clearly incumbent upon us to curb our rate of procreation, to prevent harm to ourselves and to those that we create. We are on the road to ruin, but we’re capable of making that road a longer one and of making our destination a little less austere.

A.C. Stark