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The Spirit of Value

Value is something people probably don’t think about too often even though they are faced with it every single day. As a matter of fact, value is the primary behavioral motivator of human beings. We do what we do based on what we value.

There are many theories of value. For example the rather Marxist theory of value as a product of labor. How much work goes into a product determines its value. There are some obvious problems with that which Marxism never successfully addresses (thus Marxism always fails). People value things highly that took very little work to create or that are not composed of precious or rare materials. A crayon drawing from your child is high value. If that child were killed in a car accident the value goes up. Even though the value to anyone else is nothing.

Value in a complex system cannot be determined exactly, it can only be guessed at. It is only in a multitude of one-on-one relationships where value is truly determined.

I’m very fond of the way Ayn Rand described it as the “Trader Principle”. Though that’s not unique to her she certainly elevated it to an ideal and spent a great deal of time quantifying it. “The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material. It is the principle of justice.”

As long as the participants in a trade are honest it really is the just way to do things.

If a man has a painting and it’s a masterpiece but he doesn’t care and sells it for a low price to someone who does that’s fair. Some may look at that transaction and call one man stupid and the other man lucky or may even say things like, “he ripped him off” because they value the painting more than the owner did. But no such thing is true. The two men set the value not an outside third-party. They can seek information from others as a means to decide for themselves but in the end it comes down to what they want.

I think that’s the thing the left hates most about this idea. They operate on fear. Fear that they will have made the wrong decision about value. They fear they will be the ones to sell the masterpiece and only get a few coins for it in return. They fail to understand that they only cared later and they fail to understand that they had the opportunity all along to research the item to learn more about it. But sometimes even knowing that it has a high value to others won’t change a person’s mind.

I had two small refrigerators I needed to get rid of. They were “worth” far more than I sold them for.  Selling both to the same person (and thus getting them out of my burrow quickly) was worth more to me. Someone else might view that as a bad move on my part, but it’s not because I say it’s not.

Socialism can never decide such things for another person.

But that’s just what socialism seeks to do. It seeks to assign a universal value, which is utterly impossible. As I think about this just now I find it quite interesting that socialism is always put forward as the kind choice, the humane choice, but I just realized that it tries to take the human element out of it. For all their emphasis on emotion the leftists that support socialism are utterly emotionless as they fail to take human desire into account. You need food, clothing, and shelter, and that’s what you’ll get. But if you want something you don’t need because you value it, because it’s important to you, because you love it, you don’t get it because that’s selfish of you. If you get something you don’t need that means money was spent that could have gone to someone else’s need. Need, to the left, is always more important than want no matter how hard they try to say it’s not so. Their system of economy forces it to be so.

I think it’s important to understand that supply and demand, and market value, aren’t the only ways to assess value. A $12,000 new car will get you back and forth to work as well as a $45,000 new car. What alters the value isn’t the amount of labor that went into making the car, realistically it’s the same, it’s not even in the value of the materials used (walnut dash vs plastic), it’s simply value based on your perception.

Think a moment about how many things you buy that don’t actually exist.

I’m speaking about digital content. Quite a while ago I stopped buying physical blue ray disks and started buying digital copies of the movies. That has value to me because I can watch them from any Internet connected device. But they don’t actually exist. I can’t hold them in my hand. People pay good money to buy digital carrots for their online farm, or gems for their game, or for an mp3 that they can listen to but if the world ends vanishes. None of this means that these things, these “fake” things, are worthless.

Value isn’t about money or things but rather about what these things mean to us. It’s part emotion, part need, part how these things fit into your plan for life. It’s complex and only you can decide just what is of value to you and what isn’t. For an economy to thrive those in it must resist all efforts to fix value by force of law.

There is a reason that, “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life” are known as one’s “values”.

You can no more fix a moral principle’s value for someone else than can fix the value of a cheeseburger for them. Even if it’s on the dollar menu some people just won’t spend only a dollar for that burger. They don’t want it. Things may change their mind of course. If they are hungry and there’s no place around they may buy it, but they still won’t like it. If they are starving they may buy it, relish the food, but still not prefer it. I see this with so much in our society. Because we believe something should have value we try to make it so everyone does too. If you tell someone they have to have healthcare insurance you haven’t made them value it. If you tell someone they cannot smoke pot you haven’t made them value sobriety.

It’s only by changing someone’s mind, their perception of a thing, that you can alter their value of it. When it comes to ideas you can be a salesman if you want, a huckster trying to get others to buy what you’re selling. That wears thin quickly. What you are looking for is a true convert. Someone who comes to see the value of your ideas as much as you do or even more, not because you sold them a bill of goods but because you sold them on the idea.

I have concluded, and it’s not difficult to understand this, that liberty is the only environment in which all these valuations and exchanges can honestly take place. The greatest value we can persuade others on is that they do have, and always should have, a right to determine their own path in life. While some argue that life itself robs you of choice that isn’t true. Life is not the stage and you the actor, life is the sum total and you the author.

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