A Value Monoculture

Our society has developed a monoculture of value systems. Almost all value is rated in monetary terms. Money has its uses, but it is not the only way to rate things for value and we lose other value systems at our peril.

We are all aware of the dangers of monoculture in ecology. If a pest or weather anomaly comes along it can decimate your product leaving you with absolutely nothing. But this is exactly what we've done with money -- we've put all our eggs in one basket. The unimaginative accountants and economists rule our society. How the hell did that happen? All things now require a monetary value. But some things have intrinsic value, unrelated to money.

Happiness is the first one that many people think of. There is no direct relationship between money and happiness. Yes, we have set up our society so that having no money has very dire consequences that can make you very unhappy, but that's artificial -- we could just as easily set conditions differently. I am one of the happiest people I know and I live at the poverty level.

Knowledge is another. Many people think that money buys knowledge, and yes it can, but increasingly knowledge is being made available for free. The digital age has the potential to remove all limits on this.

Friendship is a tricky one. It may appear that friendship is enhanced by money, but in fact it can impede it. A rich person is faced with never knowing whether their friends like them or their money.

Time. The harder you work for money, the less time you have.

And there are more subtle things too, like wisdom (that's slightly different from knowledge), comfort, ability, choice, health, freedom, intelligence, creativity, communication, humor, art, and so on. I'm sure you can think of more.

If we run our value system on just one thing -- monetary value -- we risk one glitch ruining us all. Unfortunately I think we are on the cusp of just such a glitch. Money is shifting in a big way to China and India and is about to leave the west (including us here in Australia) devoid of value because we have made the mistake of pinning all our hopes on this single measure of value.

Our best chance for a good future is a rich ecology of ideas and values. Open source, sharing, community projects, family, the environment, fun, learning (not necessarily at expensive institutions)... we need to place more emphasis on these before it is too late.


Miriam English 2006