The possibility to exchange values would make them a very peculiar form of capital. Karl Marx identified in his Capital the three forms of industrial capital – money capital, productive capital and commodity capital – as the different phases within the same circuit (the rotation of capital). However, acquiring moral, organizational or cultural values in order to choose among different experiences would mean breaking the paradigm of division of labor – among not only companies but also individuals and local governments. These exchanges would produce meaning: the definition, on the basis of concrete and real experiences, of what it means to act on justice, innovation, respect for the environment and other principles. Values should and can be relational goods.
Welfare economics shows that, in order to go beyond the notion of Pareto optimality – and, of course, paternalist concepts of social welfare – knowing value judgments held by individuals becomes essential, in order to make it possible to have interpersonal comparisons of utility. Now, a market for values would allow society to assess how much the allocation of physical goods is consistent with the distribution of beliefs. But it would also give these beliefs the role of resource.
Politics is nowadays deprived of a true deliberative function. The regulation of the different sectors of society takes into account the indications coming from authorities, associations, lobbies and other actors. But a global view of society, of where it is and where it should go, is rarely found.
Hannah Arendt highlighted that “Action, the only activity that goes on directly between men without the intermediary of things or matter, corresponds to the human condition of plurality [..] this plurality is specifically the condition — not only the conditio sine qua non, but the conditio per quam — of all political life.” (The Human Condition, 9). Moreover, for Hannah Arendt the two central features of action are freedom (the capacity to start something new and do the unexpected) and plurality (the need for several actors, who from their different perspectives can judge the quality of what is being enacted).
From this point of view, knowing and adopting a value that one had always overlooked or even fought against, as an opportunity to undertake new activities, would foster individual freedom in the sense defined by Hannah Arendt. And the concrete experiences made by that individual would be judged by a plurality of citizens who would assess how much, for instance, environmentalism has improved personal or professional achievements, the cultural or moral contribution offered to society by that individual and others, the economic or social standards of his/her community.
Axel Honneth has argued that recognition is a fundamental mechanism of our social existence. Indeed, on one hand we can conceive of ourselves as members of society to the extent that we are recognized in central essential aspects of our personality, and on the other reciprocal recognition is fundamental to the integration of society. Now, a market for values would foster the ethical life forms which express a concretization of the ideals embedded in modern and democratic institutions and which, for Honneth, are crucial for reconstructing a theory of justice.
But even if one shared Nancy Fraser’s idea that participatory parity implies to take into account not only the need for recognition, but also the importance of redistribution and the end of economic exploitation, the exchangeability of concrete experiences as a complement of money would accomplish this. It would redistribute economic power in favor of those individuals, companies and communities that choose to adopt some given principles, including certain notions of social justice.
Finally, a market for values may have also a spiritual relevance. Eckhart Tolle has highlighted the importance of avoiding ego identifications such as work, social status, knowledge and education, appearance, belief systems, race and religion, in order to be connected with one’s deeper self, rooted in Being. Now, the notion of functional autonomy, for which a beliefs system determines the choice of actions, instead of merely mirroring the latter, does not imply the impossibility to change such system and give it a relative importance.
A market for values would precisely allow to compare among different alternative beliefs systems and choose one on the basis of its practical implications. Functional autonomy does not consist in deriving one’s sense of self from some principles, It only implies that the social role that we choose is the outcome of a free deliberation, based on a comprehensive, open and flexible relation with the world – unlike it happens when the preoccupation to merely survive and have access to money leads to alienation and lack of interest for the common good.
Nancy Fraser, “Social Justice in the Age of Identity Politics: Redistribution, Recognition, and Participation”, in N. Fraser/A. Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Exchange, New York: Verso, pp. 7-109, 2003.
Axel Honneth, “Redistribution as Recognition: A Response to Nancy Fraser”, in N. Fraser/A. Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Exchange, New York: Verso, pp. 110-197, 2003.
Axel Honneth, Freedom’s Right. The Social Foundations of Democratic Life, New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.
Karl Marx, Das Kapital , Capital. A Critique of Political Economy, translation by Ben Fowkes, Penguin Classics, 1990.
Routledge International Handbook of Contemporary Social and Political Theory, edited by Gerard Delanty and Stephen P. Turner, Routledge, 2011.
Amartya Sen, On Ethics and Economics. Oxford and New York: Basil Blackwell; 1987.
Marco Senatore, Exchanging Autonomy. Inner Motivations As Resources for Tackling the
Crises of Our Times, Xlibris 2014.
Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments , Knud Haakonssen (ed.), Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations , University of Chicago Press, 1977.
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now. A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Namaste Publishing, 2004.
Marco Senatore (Genova, 1975) has worked at the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund. He wrote the book Exchanging Autonomy. Inner Motivations As Resources for Tackling the Crises of Our Times (Xlibris, 2014) and some articles published among others by the blog Business Review of the London School of Economics, openDemocracy and the blog of the World Bank, regarding the idea of a market for values. He currently works at the Ministry of Economy and Finance of Italy. This series of articles does not represent the views of his institution.