Economics, Environment

Rewarded to destroy wealth? Recycling has higher social return than banking

Photo: Dave Ciplet

There are lots of new approaches about how economics should be reformed in order to allow prices to tell the truth, internalising future or environmental costs, integrating scarcity in the equation, new indicators of wealth, etc.  All these topics which might have looked revolutionary or idealist not too long ago are not provocative anymore for many.

However I run into a report about a new approach in looking at the value of work which struck me. A study by NEF in which they look at how much the different professions are paid in comparison to how much they contribute to society it concludes that whereas waste recycling workers they generate 12 pounds for every pound they are paid, bankers destroy 11 pounds worth of value for every pound in value they generate. Yet in our economic system those who destroy wealth are rewarded with huge salaries and those who create it receive minimum wages.

I love it when common sense competes with economics even though the former always loses…

Worth a read:

Waste recycling workers do a range of different jobs that relate to processing and preventing waste and promoting recycling. Carbon emissions are significantly reduced when goods are recycled instead of sending them to incineration or landfill. There is also a value in reusing goods, and we have included this in our model. Our model projects that for every £1 of value spent on wages, £12 of value will be generated.
High-earning investment bankers in the City of London are among the best remunerated people in the economy. But the earnings they command and the profits they make come at a huge cost because of the damaging social effects of the City of London’s financial activities. We found that rather than being ‘wealth creators’, these City bankers are being handsomely rewarded for bringing the global financial system to the brink of collapse. While collecting salaries of between £500,000 and £10 million, leading City bankers to destroy £7 of social value for every pound in value they generate.
Although the role of an advertising executive has high status, the impact of the industry has always been a point of controversy. It encourages high consumer spending and indebtedness. It can create insatiable aspirations, fuelling feelings of dissatisfaction, inadequacy and stress. In our economic model we estimate the share of social and environmental damage caused by overconsumption that is attributable to advertising. For a salary of between £50,000 and £12 million, top advertising executives destroy £11 of value for every pound in value they generate.

Waste recycling workers do a range of different jobs that relate to processing and preventing waste and promoting recycling. Carbon emissions are significantly reduced when goods are recycled instead of sending them to incineration or landfill. There is also a value in reusing goods, and we have included this in our model. Our model projects that for every £1 of value spent on wages, £12 of value will be generated.


High-earning investment bankers in the City of London are among the best remunerated people in the economy. But the earnings they command and the profits they make come at a huge cost because of the damaging social effects of the City of London’s financial activities. We found that rather than being ‘wealth creators’, these City bankers are being handsomely rewarded for bringing the global financial system to the brink of collapse. While collecting salaries of between £500,000 and £10 million, leading City bankers to destroy £7 of social value for every pound in value they generate.


Although the role of an advertising executive has high status, the impact of the industry has always been a point of controversy. It encourages high consumer spending and indebtedness. It can create insatiable aspirations, fuelling feelings of dissatisfaction, inadequacy and stress. In our economic model we estimate the share of social and environmental damage caused by overconsumption that is attributable to advertising. For a salary of between £50,000 and £12 million, top advertising executives destroy £11 of value for every pound in value they generate.

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