Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fourth Sector Financialization and the Value of Pricelessness

"New layers of financialisation pose challenges for the sustenance of local ecological knowledges and 'biocultural diversities'. They rationalise human and non-human natures to conform with a particular economic system that privileges price over other values, and profit-oriented market exchanges over the distributive and sustainable logics of other economic systems." (Banking Nature? The financialisation of environmental conservation)

The above quote from a recent article published through the Open Anthropology Cooperative Press highlights one of my biggest concerns about the current trend in the development of what are being called hybrid business models, or fourth sector networks or for-benefit corporations. Essentially the same determinant is being used to guide the decisions of consumers and producers - price. If something can be produced cheaper then it is going to be more successful. So, it becomes about how can you produce goods in an enlarged framework of values at the cheapest price. Hence, the idea that you can include environmental or social costs into your overall final price will again be driven by reducing those impacts on the environment or society as viewed as costs. This I think can go both ways - you can either lower your negative impact on the environment or society, thereby reducing your costs and enabling you to provide your good at a lower cost, or alternatively you can add value to the environment or society that in someway enables you to offset other costs again with the aim of lowering the overall cost of your good. 

This means that the exact same metric is being used to guide our business decisions and our consumption decisions: price. 

This then reminds me of my idea of infinite value which I have expressed in other places on this blog. What I found so powerful about this idea is that it ultimately throws the whole "price" question into a bit of turmoil. It is both a price - but is also no price - it is priceless. So we have assigned it a price but it is a price that is infinite meaning that it can not be purchased. The flip side being that it can be destroyed, or reduced. Something can go from priceless to worthless - through destructive behaviours or through the compartmentalization of the whole. So a forest, seen and valued as a whole system, can be viewed as priceless. But, a tree can be assigned a price that is within the realm of reason.

In a conversation I had with a professor at UC Berkeley a few years ago it was this exact issue of price. The financialization of everything does not necessarily avoid its consumption or destruction. However, today the alternative has been focused about the zero valuation or pricing of most shared resources. Somewhere in there we need to give it a value that removes it from the ability to price it at all.

It is time for another metric to dominate - something other then price!

The point is that if we are able to price everything - the entire ecosystem - and then price the costs of reduced or increased value of this ecosystem - we will come out with a better price. Yet, this does nothing to reduce our destruction or consumption of the environment. If the price is low enough someone will buy it. And, as the luxury goods market shows - some people will even pay a higher price. A destructive product can still be produced, and its price may be high, but someone will purchase it.

Price is the wrong metric. What is the alternative metric? Is it about metrics at all? What is this deeper shift then that we require? Damn...I wish I had that answer.

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