The market economy, as it is generally understood, does not endorse specific moral and cultural values. In general, workers are not directly paid and companies do not directly profit based on their will to, say, reduce pollution or inequality.
What if values were formally a part of our social and economic interactions? A market for values might be the way to do that. Individuals and companies would exchange documents each of which would describe the benefits of applying a given moral, organizational, or cultural value. For instance, Company A that has invested in precision agriculture – choosing environmentalism as a value - would be able to describe how this has improved the use of nutrients.
Company A might transfer its expertise on environmentalism to Company B, that in exchange would describe the benefits of another value, perhaps propensity to innovation, such as lower capital investment, thanks to digitization. The insight about environmentalism could then be transferred to Individual C, in exchange for expertise on social justice, and so on.
Supply and demand would fix the price of the experiences referred to each value, and the price of each document would be the sum of prices of all experiences that it describes. Companies and individuals would have the chance (or, to use Amartya Sen’s notion, the capability) to choose among several different initiatives and add new ones. A document referred to environmentalism might be as follows.
It would be possible to exchange a given value not only with one or more other values. It might be exchanged also with goods and services (it would be a means of exchange).What about the economic incentive to buy these ideas or values? Beyond improving their own knowledge base and, therefore, competitive advantage, buyers of these documents might also profit from reselling them at a higher price. This latter circumstance would be due on one hand to autonomously adding new relevant experiences, that were not included in the documents when they were bought; and on the other hand, also to a price increase in each of these experiences, due to a higher demand.
Values would also be considered as a form of capital, along with the three Marxian forms of money, commodity and productive capital. A market for values would make it possible to extract “surplus value” on one hand through individual autonomy and, on the other, through sensitivity to social preferences. And economics might have a better relation with ethics.
This market would have at least three more benefits.
First, it would foster individuality, as freedom to choose and pursue some aims, beyond mere individualism, as freedom to choose means to an economic utility. Groups of companies would have the chance to improve products and services in their sector, by providing customers with elements such as risk reduction, affiliation, motivation, self-actualization and, above all else, social impact. Individuals would have the chance to quit alienating jobs and pursue their own ideals, for instance by starting a business in a totally new sector.
Second, the market would make it easier to spread some values across society. For instance, environmentalism and solidarity might be analyzed, implemented and endorsed also in geographical areas and economic sectors that traditionally oppose these values.
Third, societies would have a chance to become open communities that decide rationally: companies and individuals would not interpret their values as merely part of one’s sectoral culture or as the outcome of one’s specific socioeconomic conditions. Therefore, there could be a public debate on those values, aimed at comparing and spreading them across society.
These ideas can be found in Marco’s book “Exchanging Autonomy. Inner Motivations as Resources for Tackling the Crises of Our Times”