Bloody shovel

Don't call it a spade

Subjective Value

From the always great Daily Mail:


Dr David Matlock, a controversial Beverly Hills cosmetic gynaecologist, invented ‘The G-shot’

Creating value for consumers

Creating value for consumers

Say what you will, but the Mail does know how to choose their pictures. They could as well not write the article at all.

It has always bugged me that libertarians assign a moral dimension to wealth, i.e. wealthy people deserve their superiority because they have earned their wealth by producing things that people buy. A related mantra is that all trading is good for both sides, by definition, else the trade wouldn’t happen. Ergo free trade is a moral imperative and you are worse than Hitler and Gengis Khan combined if you are against it (cf. Caplan).

It also bugs me as a linguist that in recent American speech, the word “value” has changed meaning. It doesn’t mean that something is good, or worth it. Now it means that it has a good cost performance ratio. That something is “Good value” now usually means things that are cheap but actually quite nice to use.

It looks like Sapir/Whorf, and of course Orwell, were on to something when they theorised that language shapes thought. Decades of economicist nihilism has destroyed the meaning of the word “value”. Note that it hasn’t become subjective. It has ceased existing at all.


8 responses to “Subjective Value

  1. munch February 5, 2013 at 03:14

    What “bugs” you about the proposition that a freely entered into exchange benefits both parties.

    It might be loaded words to say that the wealthy “earned”: their wealth. If I find a big diamond in my back yard, and you want a diamond, and I offer it to you at a lower price than anyone else offers, I gave you value. I gave you the same for a lower price. I may have lucked into my product but the reality remains that you wanted a diamond, you did not have a diamond, I provided what you wanted at a lower price.

    I bestowed riches on you. you would either have to pay more for the diamond you wanted or forgo having a diamond.

    A woman could claim that the dating market is crap. The men I can get are dull and the interesting men I can not get. That is not a problem in the dating market (except in subjective wants unconcerned with the wants and value of others).

    • spandrell February 5, 2013 at 04:53

      My proposition is that thousands of years of Western philosophy tells us to be sceptic about the word “freely”. And anyway people go into exchanges that they think will benefit them. It doesn’t follow that any benefit actually happens.

      • munch February 7, 2013 at 03:20

        You are attacking self determination. Either the individual decides what is best for him or someone else decides. If you think we are Skinner machines, then you argue for no freedom. All those individual choices: to blog, to buy a smart phone, to read this or that site, are fictions or self delusions.

        To argue an individual might be wrong is no argument against freedom to self determination. Anyone who decides for that individual might also be wrong. The difference is I pay for my mistakes, when someone else decides for me I pay for his mistakes.

        One might always be mistaken and be making an exchange that does not benefit you. So what? Either you get to decide what you think is best or someone decides for you. The record of some people deciding for other people is poor. Either the decider favors what benefits himself and disadvantages the other or enforcing the decisions of the “anointed” causes bodies to pile up in embarrassing levels.

        • spandrell February 7, 2013 at 05:45

          No I’m not Skinnerian, but I think freedom is overrated. For certain people at least.

          The record of some people deciding for other people is not that poor at all. No G shots in Singapore :) China doesn’t let you have the kids you want. You can’t force people do to overtime in France, etc.

          People’s choices are not individual. They are mostly social, influenced by the general culture and their peer groups. Political power always tries to control culture to some extent. Might be more overt, Japan/Singaporean style, or more covert, but to some extent the powers that be always try to coerce the choices that people make. Science has advanced to the point that firms can design products precisely catered to release dopamine or whatever brain drug that can give you a kick in the precise moment they can induce you into impulse buying.

          To some extent, marketing knows more about what people want than most people themselves. This should have serious implications in the way we think about the economy.

        • rightsaidfred February 7, 2013 at 12:51

          You are attacking self determination.

          A lot of people determine that it is advantages to themselves to murder, assault, and steal. Society is largely concerned with throttling these impulses. Skinner was right about many things.

  2. rightsaidfred February 6, 2013 at 23:14

    It doesn’t follow that any benefit actually happens.

    Bingo. Spandrell casually comes up with an insight libertarians never get. John Wanamaker: “half my advertising spending is wasted, but I don’t know which half.”

    I’ve seen countless deals go bad. Even a carefully run business faces a Pareto distribution in money making deals: a fifth are going to lose money, a fifth are break even deals, two fifths make maybe 20% of the firm’s income, and a fifth are the rainmakers that bring in 80% of revenue. And then there are the big strategic decisions that go bad and bring down the company.

    Same thing with immigration: libertarians give us the glowing story of the immigrant that works long hours and creates great wealth. This is a few percent, while the rest are importing the neighborhood.

    • munch February 7, 2013 at 03:37

      I don’t think John was arguing for the proposition that some one else should get to run his advertising budget. Freedom, capitalism does not mean that you always win (such as when you spend money on an ad you get more value back); it means you get to do what you think will be a win for you. The only other choice is you get to do what someone else says you have to do.

      Value is in your mind. It is what you want. Wanamaker wanted more sales. His problem was advertising did increase sales but his knowledge of which ad was working and which ad was not was very poor. He had a knowledge problem. don;t we all. In this world everything is imperfect. Still should not a person be able to arrange his affairs in a way that he thinks maximizes value for him?

    • rightsaidfred February 7, 2013 at 13:05

      should not a person be able to arrange his affairs in a way that he thinks maximizes value for him?

      With some caveats. One should pass a test first.

      At this stage in civilization, there are some lessons learned over time that are not apparent to the individual. Monogamy, modest use of recreational drugs, and a work ethic have been shown to be successful in building wealth. These need to be taught and maintained by a structure larger than the individual.

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