What Are You Willing To Do For It?

William Parket, Connected Principals, Dec 23, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

It's fascinating how theories of value are so tied up with theories of exchange. It is perhaps a holdover from Adam Smith, where value=price, which is in turn defined by supply and demand. The value becomes what someone would be willing to pay for the thing. This is the argument presented here, by means of anecdotes related to military recruitment. But of course demand is incredibly elastic and easily manipulated (which is why theories of value in business focus on need versus want). And it is not difficult to convince a person that something they should have by right - an education, say - will be of no value (indeed, will not be valued) unless it is paid for in some way. But this is silly, and easily falsified by studying market failures. The value of something (like breathable air, say) might be inherent in the thing. True, our endlessly fickle personal sense of value may disregard this inherent worth. But this is not an argument for withholding it in lieu of payment. It's an argument for taking extra caution to ensure that it does not become a market commodity. And for teaching children not to be fooled by people manipulating their sense of value.

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