What is value?

One of the key fundamental steps to take in order to move towards a low-carbon future is to re-assess our notion of value, economic value. Over the past decades, economic value had been increasingly important as more and more things in the world could be bought with money. This is what Michael Sandel calls the making of a market society.

This is worrying because the value of anything and everything used to be so much more. There’s richness in being able to evaluate and appraise value of various things in different ways. And this is why dollar values can never encapsulate all of that. In fact, there is no such thing as a market for single goods and services. The notion of a market price is just about as real as the notion of an average. The same good can be simultaneously sold at low and high prices depending on where, when, and to whom it was sold.

By defining this abstract concept of market values, we are trying to make a subjective valuation something objective. We are trying to abstract from specific context and circumstances and forcefully say that surely there is something about the good or service itself that has nothing to do with all that. And if we can gather the averages or have a large number of observations, we can use that statistic as something objective. In reality, the statistic is just a statistic – is it a market value? That’s up to whoever is reading the statement.

Beyond the market, the real way to appraise value continues to be subjective and that is okay because we all should be selecting the dimensions we all care about and build our decisions based on that.