by: Marco Senatore

Many have said that after COVID-19, the world will have to embrace a totally new path. We will need new instruments to make this happen.

The main reason why our current market economies do not serve human beings is, in a nutshell, the following: the means have become the ends. That is to say, what is supposed to be a means to deliver wellbeing (namely money), becomes the goal in itself.

Consider environmentalism. It is of course extremely important to stress the economic and political cost of inaction against climate change. But focusing almost exclusively on the monetary aspects of acting or not acting on climate change overlooks the inherent value of nature for human wellbeing, even without a monetary value attached to it. 

A new political, social, and economic order must be based on values: what is intrinsically good and worthy to be pursued. The values of dignity, nature, connection, fairness, and participation are key for reorienting the economy and putting people and the planet at the centre of it. 

For this purpose, I propose a Market for (moral, organisational, and cultural) Values.

How could we keep a market economy functioning, while putting values at its centre? 

In a ‘Market for Values’, instead of exchanging money, firms, individuals and local communities would exchange documents through a centralised platform. 

Instead of just reflecting economic worth (like money does), these documents would reflect economic worth in terms of the benefits experienced by their previous owners, categorised by high level values, including social justice, environmentalism, inclusivity, propensity for innovation, and multiculturalism. 

For each given value e.g. social justice, the State would define a list of quantitative indicators to measure progress toward it e.g. equal pay for equal work. ‘Documents’ would then be worth more or less based on how well they scored on these indicators.

Each document would not be exchanged with money, but only with other documents and with goods and services. These documents would be a complementary means of exchange with money.

But, unlike money, which is value-neutral, and which does not foster any reflection on the moral and cultural benefits of transactions, these documents would make economic transactions possible and contribute to progressively building a collective awareness about the importance of some values. 

How would growth in a ‘Market for Values’ take place?

In order to enhance the worth of in a document in terms of the value of environmentalism, for example, indicators to act upon with might include:

  • For local communities: a minimum percentage increase in green areas over a period of time. 
  • For companies: a minimum reduction in CO2 emissions and a given level of investment in negative emissions technologies. 
  • For individuals: to volunteer for green charities. 

After taking actions to enhance the environmental value of the ‘document’, these documents can be sold on the centralised platform for higher value goods and services or other documents.

Reconciling Economics with Ethics

Since the centralised platform would be open and transparent, even after having sold these documents, it is likely that companies for example would continue to practice environmentally responsible practices, to maintain their reputation. 

A Market of Values would foster a culture of prioritising the ends e.g. social justice, before deciding on what the means should be, such as the jobs we create, the cities in which we live, and the skills that we may want to acquire. Existing Wellbeing frameworks, such as the ones adopted in Iceland and Scotland, rely on quantitative indicators for desired policy outcomes or outputs at the national level. By contrast, in a ‘Market for Values’, quantitative indicators would measure inputs, the collective actions of all people. This would also foster a spirit of community, as I have highlighted in my book Exchanging Autonomy. Inner Motivations as Resources for Tackling the Crises of Our Times.

If in the Market, we saw that the worth of documents promoting certain values is growing faster or greater than the worth of ‘money’, we would know that we are making progress toward an economic system that centres wellbeing.

You can read more about the mechanics of a ‘Market for Values’ in several articles on the World Bank’s blog, London School of Economics’ Business Review, openDemocracy, Berlin’s Forum for a New Economy, New School’s Public Seminar and the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute.

What do you think of the idea of a Market for Values? Please share your thoughts!

Marco Senatore works at the Ministry of Economy and Finance of Italy. Marco formulated this proposal for a ‘Market for Values’ in his book, “Exchanging Autonomy. Inner Motivations As Resources for Tackling the Crises of Our Times” (Xlibris, 2014). This article represents only his personal views. You can connect with Marco on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.  

Marco Senatore works at the Ministry of Economy and Finance of Italy. Marco formulated this proposal for a ‘Market for Values’ in his book, “Exchanging Autonomy. Inner Motivations As Resources for Tackling the Crises of Our Times” (Xlibris, 2014). This article represents only his personal views. You can connect with Marco on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.  

The Faces of the Wellbeing Economy Movement is a series highlighting the many informed voices from different specialisms, sectors, demographics, and geographies in the Wellbeing Economy movement. This series will share diverse insights into why a Wellbeing Economy is a desirable and viable goal and the new ways of addressing societal issues, to show us how to get there. This supports WEAll’s mission to move beyond criticisms of the current economic system, towards purposeful action to build a Wellbeing Economy.

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