‘The Price of Everything’, a book reviewed in yesterday’s Sunday Times, horrified me. Everything was costed – relationships, printer ink, sex, children, women working, even a year of a person’s life in different parts of the world. £2,028 for a year of good health in India compared to £29,000 in the UK.
I have an inherent abhorrence of this reductionist view. You can’t describe or value people in purely monetary terms. Or rather maybe you can but in my view it’s wrong. This obsession with money devalues all of us.
People want their material needs satisfied – food, shelter, education, access to basic services and so on – but beyond this the quality of people’s relationships, their ability to contribute to society, the respect of fellow citizens and living in peace with your neighbours are all vitally important and cannot be measured in purely monetary terms.
It feels slightly strange railing against a book; it’s rare that I am so annoyed. Particularly as Practical Action was founded by an economist - the author of ‘Small is Beautiful’, Fritz Schumacher. Fritz’s view was fundamentally opposite to that set out in this book: he argued that everything couldn’t be costed, and that in trying to relate everything to the market we devalued ourselves, with everything equated to everything else.
One quote from Fritz that I love and that encourages me to think big is:
‘The way in which we experience and interpret the world obviously depends very much indeed on the kind of ideas that fill our minds, If they are mainly small, weak superficial and incoherent our life will appear insipid, uninteresting, petty and chaotic.’
I wonder what he would have said about interpreting the world in its totality though the lens of money.