First example, in analyzing the much discussed, and hopefully fiercely fought cuts at West Virginia University one point comes up repeatedly. Which is that humanities courses like languages and literature, generally bring in more money than they cost. Humanities professors are cheaper than faculty in other departments, such as business, and generally courses involve less costly technology than courses in STEM. There have also been suggestions that other aspects of the university, like its football team, are not only more expensive, with something like fourteen assistant coaches, but cost more than they bring in. I am not sure about that last point, however, and am honestly not going that deep into the matter. There are also larger points about the general decline in state funding for higher education. I am not suggesting that one make an argument defending education primarily in terms of costs and returns--far from it.
My main point here is that eliminating language programs is not the result of a simple cost/benefit analysis, a comparison of revenue in and out, but from what could be considered the ideology of economic rationality. Languages, culture, and even puppetry just seem to be extravagant even if they are not. While an instrumental calculation tells us that courses in such departments bring in more revenue, more students, our idea of what is economically rational tells us that they are expensive and not essential to whatever we think a university is, increasingly a job training center. Economical is often a representation of calculation, an idea of what is worthwhile or expensive, rather than an actual calculation based on costs and revenue.
Second example: and this comes from Adam Kotsko's post about streaming, streaming services, like other app based transformations such as Uber and Airbnb, seem to be the very model of market efficiency. They have effectively eliminated the middle man, the cable provider, television network, or video store, bringing more profits directly to the studio and more choice to the audience. I am not going to get into the failure of the latter (better reserved for another post), but the truth of the matter is that streaming has not been profitable with most services working at a loss for years. Nonetheless, streaming seems profitable and a model of what it means to be successful capitalist enterprise. So much so that when my university was cutting programs a few years ago a member of the board said that he wanted the university to be like Netflix not Blockbuster, by which I assume that he meant efficient, new. and online. It is the idea, or ideal of disruption, of change and obsolescence that, explains the interest in streaming services and not their actual profitability. Of course it is possible to say that part of the fetishization of apps has more to do with the long game, with the role they play in deskilling work and making working conditions more precarious in order to replace employees with workers with even less security and lower wages. The long game, the overall social effect, is something that capitalist from Adam Smith to Milton Freeman have argued companies are not supposed to not consider--their only concern should be immediate self-interest (or in Freeman's case shareholder interest).
Third example, by now you have probably heard of the viral online hit “Rich Men North of Richmond" by Oliver Anthony. I am not going recommend the song as a song, but I have copied some of the lyrics below to discuss it as a cultural moment (albeit one probably forgotten by the time you read this).