Social Question

LostInParadise's avatar

Does everything have a monetary value?

Asked by LostInParadise (27708points) August 27th, 2012

The knee jerk reaction is to say, No, no! Some things are priceless. Let me put forth a contrarian point of view.

We have a finite amount of resources. It is impossible for everyone to have everything that they could possibly want. Therefore we need a way of choosing how resources will be allocated. We use money to rank comparative values. You may object and ask how we can compare the values of apples and oranges, but that is exactly what we do. Without money, we would need to resort to a barter system – so many apples would fetch so many oranges, based on supply and demand.

Okay, but what about the intangibles. How can we put a price tag on a human life, pollution or a species of plant or animal?

Under the formal rules of cost benefit analysis the value of a human life is based on how much money a person will earn for the remainder of his life. I find this a bit harsh. Still there must be a limit to how much we are willing to spend to keep a person alive. How much should it be? A thousand dollars, a million dollars, a trillion dollars? As distasteful as this is to think about, there must be some point where the sacrifice to others is too great.

This is already a very long question, so let me stop here to get your reactions.

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15 Answers

zensky's avatar

Human life has a value than can be calculated, sadly. Google it and see.

Love, appreciation, prestige et al cannot.

Everything else, from death to taxes, has a dollar value.

downtide's avatar

@zensky I’m sure medical insurance companies are expert in calculating the value of a human life, when compared with the cost of treatment.

Even sex has a monetary value, and has been traded since at least the invention of money if not before.

The cost of pollution can be calculated by working out the damage caused to the environment and its resources; an oil spill at sea can wipe out a fishing ground for example. Even non-agricultural land, and the specied of plants and animals which live there, have monetary value as a place for tourists, hikers and wilderness-lovers.

flutherother's avatar

What is a cynic? “Someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” Oscar Wilde.

fremen_warrior's avatar

First part: Breathing was free last time I checked.

Second part: it depends on the circumstances (who, where, why, what will the cost be).

Generally: We, as a species, are not “a paragon of animals,” just another animal. As such we are limited by our hardware (bodies) and programming (genetics) despite whatever level of free will we think we might have. We are slightly more advanced than the monkey digging bugs out of a tree trunk with a stick (no offence, monkeys). Life has a definite price, it’s € 12000.99 (free shipping). Is that what you want to hear? It is always a cost/benefit ratio, sometimes just veiled enough some of us fool ourselves we are “beyond such barbarism”.

zenvelo's avatar

Economists put a value on everything, including those intangibles.

The value of one’s life comes up in wrongful death suits. That gets calculated by the potential earnings of the person, their age, and what they have done.

If you look at these awards, you’ll see a child is worth less than a grown up who is working, because one can’t predict the future of a child.

Also calculated sometimes, is loss of affection for a spouse and a child.

@fremen_warrior breathing is not costless when one is determining the need to clean up pollution: do you spend a very high amount of money to clean up every last speck of smoke or pollution? Or do you spend enough to get 95%? or some where in between those goals?

fremen_warrior's avatar

@zenvelo move to rainforest, pay no taxes.

dabbler's avatar

I’ll agree with Mr. Einstein who once said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

wonderingwhy's avatar

Yep, everything has a monetary value. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though as it allows for quick and rough cost/benefit analysis of complex systems which can be very helpful when you have limited resources and must decide on how to apply them. What’s concerning in my view isn’t so much that everything has a price but how frequently society allows that price to influence moral decision making while seemingly ignoring that we are the ones assigning that price to begin with.

Facade's avatar

No. Some people’s ancestors created money a long time ago. How can something that has only been around for a certain amount of time be the measurement for everything? Slowly yet steadily losing faith in humanity…

Coloma's avatar

Well, of course, one can place a monetary value on anything, whether or not that value is moral or immoral, or realistic, is a whole different ballgame. Insurance companies dissect body parts and attach a certain monetary value to fingers, toes, eyes and limbs. A thumb is worth more than a pinky finger and a big toe, worth more than a baby toe. lol

“Spiritually” speaking ALL things, are of equal value as it is the spirit and intention that affords value not the physical value of the object. My plate of cookies, made with love, is every bit as viable as your diamond ring, but, heh….few people can attain this level of enlightened thinking and a plate of cookies can’t be hocked at your local pawn shop, the ring can. haha

LostInParadise's avatar

What I am particularly interested in is how the monetary point of view can be used to promote progressive causes. Conservatives sometimes say that we should apply cost benefit analysis to environmental issues. How might that work out? What, for example is the value of an animal or plant species? Even if we ignore the possibility that the species may have medicinal use, it has value in our appreciation of nature. There is evidence that exposure to nature has mental health benefits. How much value does all this amount to? Whatever value it has, must be carried out not for one generation, but for multiple generations of people, since allowing a species to go extinct means that it is gone forever. Additionally, the loss of any species puts pressure on the other species, which had been in equilibrium. It would be nice if someone could carry out a calculation and show that the value of a species, though finite, is still extraordinarily large.

jca's avatar

Some things may be more valuable to some people than to others. For example, I may not be willing to take a job that I dislike, because to me, my peace and happiness is worth some sacrifice. Other people, however, may feel differently.

Blackberry's avatar

Nothing has value other than what we give it. I could sell my car for a dollar if I wanted to.

CWOTUS's avatar

It’s not so much that everything “does” have a monetary value, because obviously there are some things that can’t be purchased. You just can’t buy everything, and some things you can never buy. But when making cost / benefit analyses or, as @zenvelo artfully suggests, determining to what degree do we attempt to make our water and air (to name just two common things) “as near-perfect as practical” without spending everything to clean up the last iota of pollution, then you have to have some figures in mind.

We do the same thing in medical and drug studies. Certain amounts of mortality and failure are inevitable and “acceptable” – provided the studies are reported accurately. Military planners deal with “acceptable losses” vs. “unacceptable” casualty rates. Food suppliers are allowed certain amounts of contaminants in food that is certified as “safe”. Xrays of welds are never expected to be perfect; we deal with “acceptable indications” [of imperfection] all the time. The question becomes “How much are you willing to spend to save ‘the next life’?” You have to make the calculation or you’ll go broke trying to achieve perfection.

When you go broke trying to achieve perfection, then the people who can and do use your product lose the ability to do that; the workers you employed lose their jobs, and no one benefits.

Jeruba's avatar

Everything that it’s possible to own, obtain, or control can have a price put upon it based on what someone is willing to pay.

But that is not the same as being able to express the value of everything in monetary terms.

For instance, you can’t put a value on the life of a child. But you can find someone who is willing to pay x dollars for a child and someone else who is willing to make the sale. A masterpiece of ancient art is properly called “priceless” because there is no way to express its worth in cold currency. But there’s undoubtedly a collector or a dealer somewhere who could tell you how much it would cost you to possess it.

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