I posted the following to a Burning Man mailing list. The original context, mostly irrelevant, is whether volunteers for an event should get free admission.
But also there is the idea that our culture seems to really value some very valueless things while simultaneously undervalueing or seeing no value at all in some extremely valuable things - like motherhood, art, caregiving of all types, and so on. What I think we're doing with these discussions is working out what "value" means to our community and how we really can make our way to true giving - it's hard though and messy I think.
I think it's important to distinguish between "what our culture
values" and "what pays well." Markets can take on a life of their
own, so while you may be able to correlate values with money within a
particular market (e.g., Americans have valued house size over quality
of construction), comparing dollars paid in one market to dollars paid
for something else doesn't really work.
For a silly example, I got paid a lot more to write software for
governments than most sex workers get paid to give people orgasms.
Does that mean our culture values effective property tax systems more
than sex? No, it just means the market for people who know how to
write code is tighter than the market for people who can have sex.
For a less silly example, I pay $5 in gas (plus car depreciation) to
drive from Boulder to Denver and back. I pay nothing to ride around
town on my bike. Does that mean I value driving more than bicycling
and Denver more than Boulder? No, I enjoy riding a lot more and
prefer to spend time in Boulder. It's just that the nature of cars
involves spending money, but bikes not so much.
In my ideal world, the community makes sure everyone's well fed and
cared for, even if there isn't a lucrative market for what they do.
Like clean air, safe roads, and public broadcasting, art is a public
good. You can't quantify how much value a person will get from
artwork, so it's not well suited to markets with supply and demand.
The fact that artists have trouble making a living doesn't mean we
don't value art; it's just a reflection that our economic system isn't
a perfect tool for ensuring our values are actualized.
Remember: economists use "willingness to pay" as a substitute for
personal values, but that's just because it's a lot easier to do math
with the former. Money is a useful tool for pursuing our values, but
it does not straightforwardly represent our values. Don't confuse a
pencil for a poem.