“The Rebel Sell”

Back at McGill, we read The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter. One of them even came to talk to our class. (I think it was Andrew Potter, but all of my old notes sadly didn’t make the flight back to America-land with me, because I foolishly thought I was done with Canadian Studies forever in December 2006.) I highly recommend the book.

I was reading up on the book again recently for another project when I stumbled an interview with the authors. This snippet encapsulated a lot of the difficulties I have with the notion of pursuing a PhD (or MA, or BA, or MS, or BS for that matter…):

Some examples of positional goods include a penthouse apartment, a congestion free highway, or a PHD. These are all goods which are subject to social, not material, scarcity. So we can’t make more of them. Not everyone can live in a penthouse right? Cause somebody has to live in the apartments beneath it. And so the social scarcity in terms of apartments. Not everyone can drive on an open road, and of course, we can’t give everyone a PHD, if we did, we’d have to invent some other, higher accreditation in order to figure out who gets to teach at universities. The best illustration of a positional good phenomenon is actually real-estate, and it’s also the most economically significant because that’s what people who spend the big money on.

They suggest, among other things, legislative change, which is a noble (and difficult) thing to pursue. So what am I doing in school again?

Right, change the system from within it. Without getting co-opted like Mick Jagger. (You should really read the interview!)

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