Friday, January 21, 2011


More about Values

There are inconsistencies in my set of values.  I classify values as individual values and societal values.  An example of an individual value is thrift and frugality.  I try to be thrifty in my purchases and frugal in the use of things I've purchased.  I'm frugal about food.  I live alone and sometimes food that I buy starts to get moldy before I eat it.  My practice is simply to scrape off the mold and eat what's left.  Most mold has a bad taste - it tastes, well, moldy.  Of course bleu cheese, English Stilton cheese, French Roquefort, and others are moldy.  The delicious flavor of those cheeses is due to a special mold.  As you can see from the cheese, the mold is blue-green in color.  Hence, the name bleu cheese (bleu being the French word for blue).

Getting back to thrift and frugality, it is good for an individual to be thrifty and frugal.  It is also good for society for individuals to be thrifty and frugal.  We live on a crowded planet with limited resources.  If I am thrifty and frugal I am leaving resources for others to use.  I am convinced that thrift, frugality, and avoiding waste is a value that every individual should cherish.

There are some people who believe that society should not only encourage thrift and frugality but actually enforce it by strictly rationing the resources that members of society can use.  This rationing is done by pricing or using "market forces" to allocate scarce resources.  This enforcement of limits on the use of resources becomes to some people a value.  Just as my own habits of thrift and frugality leave resources for others to use, so this enforced limit leaves resources available to those who can afford them.

I do not view the enforced limit of the use of resources by market forces as a value.  That is, I do not think it is a good thing.  Rationing may well be necessary but it should not be left to market forces to make the allocation.  Resources should be allocated according to need.  Every American is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  If a person is a diabetic and needs insulin to remain alive, then that person should have insulin.  He or she shouldn't be deprived of insulin because the price is too high.

Allocating scarce resources on the basis of need rather than price and ability to pay isn't easy.  It isn't automatic.  Human intervention is necessary.  Human being have to make decision about allocation.  These decisions must be made openly so that everyone can see whether they are made fairly and not according to some special relationship between the person who decides the allocation and the person who receives the scarce resource.  For example, giving a person the power to determine the allocation of insulin gives that person the power to decide who lives and who dies.

I am trying to show that there is a conflict between individual and societal values in some cases.  In my insulin case, one can argue that it is impossible to make sure that an insulin czar will always be fair and will not play favorites.  Hence, the only alternative is to let market forces make the decision.  To me, decisions made by market forces are obviously biased in favor of the rich.  The rich diabetic gets all the insulin he or she needs while the poor diabetic doesn't get any.

I will continue this essay later, with other examples of values in conflict.
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