What’s It Worth?

The worth—or value—of any good is always unknown and unknowable. Use the consideration of this reality to trigger useful questions regarding market behavior.

If you have followed my posts to this point, you realize this question—”What’s It Worth?”—has only one answer: “The worth—or value—of any good is always unknown and unknowable.” Even an individual cannot quantify the worth of things he values. So, should this question always become a conversation ender?

No. Frequently pondering questions to which we have no answers plays as important a role in understanding as does having a ready answer. I will examine reflections on this unanswerable question at three levels:

  • Individual

  • Enterprise
  • Economy

Individual

When you pose the question” What’s it worth?” to an individual, what do you really mean? Since he cannot answer the question as phrased, you probably want to know what price he would pay for the item. What would he give up that he values less (usually in terms of money) to gain the item in question, which he values more? The answer always depends on his personal assessment. It may not work for you; but that does not make the answer wrong or right.

Enterprise

At the enterprise level the” What’s it worth?” question, again, generally refers to price—not value. In this case the” asking price” of an item usually results from a price discovery process in which a number of individuals, through individual acts of buying or not buying, signal how much they will voluntarily give up in order to acquire the item.

The price discovery process does not amount to a collective decision. Nor does it mean that the individual buyers have reached a consensus on a precise price for the item. It means that the asking price falls within a range in which the buyers willingly give up something—usually money—they value less than the item they buy.

Economy

The “What’s it worth?” question becomes a bit more complex when speaking of an economy. People use the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a common metric for the “value” of an economy. But does GDP provide any real indicator of value or even a measure of price? No.

It cannot indicate value because the diverse value judgments of millions of people regarding millions of items cannot represent a measure at any level.

GDP cannot provide useful information regarding prices. The varied prices of multiple goods simply cannot be aggregated. Just try to add the prices of hamburgers, autos, and cameras. You can’t do it.

So, is GDP a useless statistic? No. But, you must understand what it does measure. It simply measures the number of dollars exchanged for defined categories of goods. (GDP also suffers from logical flaws, which I will discuss in another post.)

Conclusion

Next time someone asks you,” What’s it worth?” stop and think. What does this question really mean? (You may not want to take the questioner through all your thought processes, but, the pause might clarify your own reasoning.)

Individually does this really refer to price?

For an enterprise, what range of value does the discovered price indicate? Can prices move up or down within a range within that range?

In an economy does the” value” metric provide useful information? Or, does it provide misinformation?

Consider the value of an unanswerable question.