Publication – FUTURESofWORK

Futures of Work Online Magazine, Volume 18


Harry Pitts (University of Bristol)

Former Bank of England governor Mark Carney’s BBC Radio 4 Reith Lectures have restimulated interest in the topic of ‘value’. For Carney, the first decades of a century of crisis have been characterised by a continuing commitment to abstract ‘subjective’ theories of value. These subjective approaches see value as relative, not absolute, resting in the eye of the beholder and expressed via the medium of market price. The mainstream adherence to such a view of value, Carney suggests, has contributed to everything from the 2008 financial crash, climate catastrophe, underinvestment in infrastructure and the undervaluing of health and social care exposed by the COVID-19 crisis. The solution, he argues, is to return to more concrete objective assessments of the real and true value of things.

It is certainly bracing to hear such a senior player in the world of finance make these criticisms of what has passed for economic common sense in the contemporary age. But, as I show in my new book, Value, it only tells half the story of how the world has unravelled in the years since the Great Recession. Whilst subjective theories of value undoubtedly contributed towards the 2008 crash by distorting incentives for markets and states alike, the reaction to the crisis has seen things swing the other way. Offering a persuasive alternative for activists and electorates suspicious of the seemingly abstract economy of global capitalism, objective theories of value that concretely root the worth of things in specific people, places and things have underpinned the populist insurgencies of the past five years. …

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