by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
There exists a vast hierarchy of values assigned to each and every good and service in the marketplace, and everybody gets to choose for himself what value he attaches to each product. He doesn’t get to choose for anybody else, but the instrument of voluntary exchange allows people to negotiate mutually agreeable trades — in a free market, a trade that is not mutually agreeable simply does not happen. Matching up the shifting and wildly different priorities of the world’s billions of buyers and sellers is mainly an information problem, and markets use the record-keeping system of money to solve that problem. This is an organic social order that has evolved over thousands of years. Nobody planned it out. Nobody passed a law bringing it into existence. It is.
People value labor in the same way they value goods and services. Wages are what we call the price of labor. We could pay people in avocados or automobiles, but it’s easier to pay them in money. But the use of money does not change how we value that labor vis-à-vis all the world’s products. There isn’t anything dishonorable or low about working in a fast-food restaurant or as a laborer on a construction site. All honest work is dignified. But that doesn’t mean we value it the same way. We don’t value the skills of the brain surgeon more than the skills of the 7-Eleven clerk because we think he’s a better person, or even because he spent so much time and effort pursuing the education and training that made him a brain surgeon. We value the work of the brain surgeon because when you need a brain surgeon, you really need a brain surgeon, and you can’t just pull some guy off the street and give him a couple of hours of training and expect him to be competent.