Value in Ethics and Economics

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Women as commercial baby factories, nature as an economic resource, life as one big shopping mall: This is what we get when we use the market as a common measure of value. Elizabeth Anderson offers an alternative - a new theory of value and rationality that rejects cost-benefit analysis in our social lives, and in our ethical theories. The market has invaded the realm of ethics, giving us a quantitative account of values that fails to do justice to the richness and variety of our ethical experience. But valuing, this book suggests, is not simply something we do more or less. It is something we do in different ways. By asking how we value something, instead of how much, Anderson's theory guides us to a deeper understanding of how and why the goods we value differ in kind - how and why, for instance, objects of love, respect, and admiration differ from objects of mere use. By understanding these differences, we should be able to determine which goods can properly be treated as commodities, and which cannot. This account of the plurality of values thus offers a new approach, beyond welfare economics and traditional theories of justice, to assessing the ethical limitations of the market. In this light, Anderson discusses several contemporary controversies involving the proper scope of the market, including commercial surrogate motherhood, privatization of public services, and the application of cost-benefit analysis to issues of workplace safety and environmental protection.
Publication Date: 
August 11, 1995