Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The price of everything and the value of nothing

There was some good coverage for the work of the New Economics Foundation on the real "value-added" by various professions.

I shall read the report with interest as it seems to be an attempt to find a new definition of "value" which goes beyond the market driven definition which does such damage to public services and the public service ethos.

To quote from the report; "Early theories of value neglected the extent to which the production and trade of goods and services may have a wider impact on society that is not reflected in the cost of producing them. These ‘externalities’ are often remote or hard to see but that does not mean that they are not real or that they do not affect real people – either now or in the future.
Because social and environmental costs are not properly accounted for, the market tends to oversupply products that may have a significantly negative environmental or social impact – such as cheap consumer goods and complex financial products. In the same way we underpay work that has a high social value, creating high vacancy rates in our most important public services such as
nursing and social work. By making social value creation an important societal goal we could set the right incentives to maximise net social benefits, ensure a greater return to labour rather than capital, and a more equal distribution of economic resources between workers".

These arguments could be of great value to the case UNISON has to make for public services - and helpful to our Million Voices campaign.

Mind you - though it is some years since I studied economics I do seem to remember some old German bloke explaining the difference between "use value" (the utility of a product or service) and "exchange value" (which is not quite the same thing as price but not far off) and also saying something or other about the contradiction between the private appropriation of a social product which is produced more and more collectively. I wonder how the New Economics Foundation think we could achieve their sound objectives whilst leaving the commanding heights of the economy in private hands?

I had better go and read the report...

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