Value(s) without Value


PREMO Member
In his recent book, Value(s), Mark Carney claims we have moved from a market economy to a market society that overvalues money and private goods while systematically undervaluing public goods, such as the environment and public infrastructure. Carney, the former governor of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England and now the United Nations special envoy for climate action and finance, argues that “every financial decision [should take] climate change into account.” The hackneyed argument that our society produces too many private goods at the expense of public goods dates back to at least 1958, when the liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith, also Canadian-born and a regular foil on Firing Line for decades, published his book The Affluent Society.

Carney acknowledges that “both value and values are judgments. And therein lies the rub.” The problem is choosing what values should be incorporated into decision-making. Carney argues the values that need to be accentuated came to the forefront during the pandemic, including “solidarity, fairness, responsibility and compassion.” That’s one way of looking at it. Others, however, might argue that the pandemic brought out the worst of human nature: policy-makers selfishly shifting mountains of debt onto future generations, nations hoarding medical supplies for their own people, bureaucratic incompetence slowing vaccine rollout in the EU and Canada, racial hatred directed at Asians, a shortening of global supply lines that will damage emerging nations for years. The list goes on.
Stealing other people’s pets has become so common that Time magazine ran a story on “dognapping.” The problem with values is that there is no assurance the best ones will rise to the top, especially in a crisis.

It is revealing to compare the values Carney claims are necessary to repurpose our economic and financial systems with those that the Nobel prize–winning economist Edmund Phelps shows are key to innovation and economic growth. Carney lists fairness, solidarity, resilience, responsibility, sustainability, humility, and dynamism. Phelps emphasizes independence, initiative, achievement, and acceptance of competition. Carney’s values are arbitrary and politically motivated, while Phelps’s are validated by both the historical evolution of innovation and statistical evidence. Carney’s shallow analysis hardly justifies his cover flap’s boast that he is “one of the great economic thinkers of our time.”