In Search of Value


A host of recent news and events have made it startlingly clear that money’s role in our lives is of phenomenal importance. Currency always drove the decisions of businesses and influenced the habits of individuals. These days, though, it seems to be a highly valued factor that shapes entire organizations, communities, and even global systems. Administrations evaluate the effectiveness of their policies on savings or money generated. World leaders use money as their justification to implement or remove laws.

In response, there is a movement pushing against all things capitalism. So far, it’s manifested itself in such ways as minimalism, tiny homes, simple living, and experience-focused lifestyles. Even this website was, in a way, created as a reaction to the same situation.

Why the strong sentiment now? Why such a rejection of money now?

Perhaps it’s because we’ve now saturated ourselves with a common misconception—that money determines value.

We don’t usually bring such heavy topics to Milieu Forager—after all, our mission is to “showcase life’s fleeting moments as masterpieces to be appreciated”. However, it is also our responsibility to reflect our milieu and address its issues. These situations shape our collective ability to appreciate the fleeting moments.

Money was instituted as a way to easily exchange goods and services. It gave societies a common, universal system to determine fair, supposedly incontestable, transactions. In order to do this, money needed to be given a value.

Over time, the numerical value of money became synonymous with the numerical value of things that were purchased. I paid $5 for this object? Then this must mean that the object’s value is $5. No more, no less.

But this is an oversimplification. For the sake of ease and convenience, we’ve let an autonomous and apathetic system determine the value of things around us. At some level, an individual set the price for the object. Yet that price was likely determined by the cost of creating that object, like materials, time, and logistics. We take for granted that the values are determined fairly. If one factor increases in value, then supposedly it’s reflected or balanced within the rest of the vast system. Rarely do we question the value of an object.

Given this mindset, there is danger when we take the value of an object to be equal to, or at least proportionate to, its worth. And even more so, there are alarming implications when translating that mindset to people, lives, and the connections they share.

Say for instance that one person pays a large sum of money for a rare artifact. This person now owns the object. Does the acquisition increase not just the value of his or her possessions, but his or her value as well? Does the value of the object transfer to the value of the owner?

Modern society says yes. Whether you own a lot of money or a collection of objects that you bought with lots of money, you are valuable to others. Once you lose those things, however, you become less valuable.

At some level we all know this isn’t an accurate representation of someone’s true value, especially if we define someone’s value as his or her ability to contribute meaningfully to society. The ability to reason and think extends beyond economic status. While some would argue that a person is influenced by the situations in which he or she lived through, everyone has the capability to examine their situations and draw conclusions. In fact, it can be argued that this multiplicity of situations creates more viewpoints with which to examine our world, and therefore a stronger ability to share more meaningful contributions. Can we change the conversation of value, then, from money to something else?

The extreme response to this situation is to reject capitalism. Reject money, remove it from the equation, then fill in the space this creates with something better suited.

However, we cannot completely disregard the current role of money. It is so enmeshed in the very foundations of our society that removing it could cause the entire structure to collapse. This means money must always have a seat in the conversation.

One solution may be to clearly define the boundaries of money’s ability to create value. It already has limitations within its current system:

1—

Different people are willing to pay different amounts of money for the same object, so a single monetary value is not considered fair to all parties. What is worth $30 to one person may not even be worthy of a glance to another person.

2—

Time changes the properties of an object, and therefore its monetary value. The newly made poster print is worth $15. In ten years, it may be worth as little as $0.50 or as much as $500.

If we acknowledge these two fluctuations, then we acknowledge that money is not a fixed system, but rather an arbitrary one. It therefore cannot create value on its own. This frees us, then, to assign values to things in other ways.

It may be in our best interest to leave those new values unquantified, however. Do we need to place value on the quiet breath of a breeze across the skin? How important is it to measure the significance of sand tumbling across the ocean floor?

Perhaps we can enjoy these little moments as they are simply because they have no value.

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