I heard yesterday that the careers advisory service in a local authority near me, which goes into schools and tries to help teenagers, not just to find a job but also to explore and maybe overcome the social, familial and personal impediments to this goal, is to be closed down, on the grounds that it is deemed not to deliver "value for money". In the conversation, I took an accountancy approach: I understand the money bit, it's their budget; but let's see the other side of the ledger, value: put a price, in pounds, on the swim or sink outcome, for the rest of their lives, of each of those kids, please - then and only then can you draw up that balance sheet. These bastards need to be challenged on their own ground.
O.K., that's straightforward enough. But, reflectively, I started to ponder this concept of "value". If we're to take this onslaught seriously, we need counter-arguments. And, given that by my own admission the "value" side isn't going to be couched in financial terms - I've just demonstrated the banal futility of that - then we need to shift the ground. You put your money down - I'll call or raise you with my value.
So, as I often do, I resorted to the dictionary. (Chambers, if you want to check up on me.) "Value" is of course variously defined, but the most apposite one here, I think, is "intrinsic worth or goodness". I'd settle for that, in a room with a bean-counter, but let's go a step further. "Intrinsic: genuine, inherent, essential". "Worth: moral excellence". Moral excellence: ponder that, bean-counter ... and also a definition of worth that teeters toward poetry: "deserving, justifying, meriting, repaying or warranting consideration, attention, the effort, the journey, taking some action ..."
I rest my case. And I didn't even get round to "goodness".