Somewhere in history we – the people – probably went a little bit wrong or where we just unlucky when thinking about “Value”….
At some point in history we realized that the way to exchange things for other things (four chickens for a cow, and so on…) was a bit unpractical, so we invented money. At about the same time the everlasting discussion on what the word “Value” stands for started.
Very rapidly parts of our society took ownership of the concept and put the equal sign between value and monetary amount. (Richness, Wealth)
One contributing reason could be that money easily can be counted whereas sociological and ecological value is more abstract and much harder, maybe even impossible, to count.
This has led to all kinds of somewhat strange behavior and “unfortunate” developments, and still today, there are numerous experts and philosophers’ trying to explain what is “real value” in our complex society.
Letter of Indulgence
Over time all kinds of strange phenomenon has been created – as an example; in the middle ages, the church started to sell “letters of indulgence” mistakenly interpreted by many as “If I do something wrong I can pay for that and everything is OK” which meant that wealth was a “carte blanche” to behave badly.
Quite a share of the money needed to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was actually raised through “aggressive” marketing of these letters.
Another much more “long-lived” phenomenon is that, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) during decades has been used to reflect the standard of living in a country.
It is only quite recently that GDP has been more challenged by other indicators such as HDI, GINI and HPI including more factors like; income inequality, ecological footprint and social value into the equation – things that represents real value for people, but are so difficult to calculate.
Economic inequality harms societies
Emeritus Professor Richard Wilkinson charts data in his book “The Spirit Level” proving societies that are more equal are healthier and happier societies. He also shows what gets worse when rich and poor are too far apart: real effects on health, lifespan, and even such basic values as trust.
Watch Professor Wilkinson’s speech on TED:
Value in a Sustainable world
Resources are not abundant; our nature cannot withstand all our efforts of usage, we have only one atmosphere and so on. We cannot continue to promote a lifestyle with infinite growth in a finite environment.
One thing is certain – if we are going to survive on this planet without breaking the boundaries of our ecological system, we need to re-think what Value is about.
We know as a scientific fact that we are currently stressing many of our ecological systems way beyond its boundaries. There is also multiple evidence, that our social equality is pushed beyond its boundaries. With a looming recession, in need of financial growth according to economists, it is also quite clear that something is wrong with the current equation.
The implication of the expression “Triple Bottom Line” is quite significant – we must evaluate Economy, Ecology and Sociology on the same Bottom Line, and they deserve at least equal attention.
“What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”Oscar Wilde
Don’t become a cynic!
There are people who try to put monetary value to everything, sometimes using “cliche quotes” like “Time is Money” and “Knowledge is Money” – isn’t it a bit strange – “Time is Time” and “Knowledge is Knowledge”. Just because you can, under specific circumstances, perhaps gain some time by purchasing faster transportation or buy some knowledge from a consultant on a specific matter doesn’t change the facts in general. Try to replace the time you spend with your newborn child with money or the insights and knowledge you can gain from reading a good book….
I would like to close this post by quoting Hans Rosling from a Swedish Talk-Show, where he was asked; – What do you think about “The Market”?
“I tend to look at The Market as an Ardennes draught horse – a fantastic help to pull a burden and get the job done. But I also want to point out another similarity – you never ask it for advice….