Let’s Begin with an Exercise…
Look up from your screen and observe the things around you.
As I do so myself, it is not difficult to estimate the market value of the couch, rug, and even the land on which my cabin resides. If I were to have a yard sale tomorrow, each item could be priced with a bright orange sticker for potential buyers to assess and purchase.
Many appraisals of worth, similar to those that we just assigned our surrounding items, are based on the ideals supported by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Each object has a market value, which fluctuates with condition, use, and personal necessity for that thing. On a national level, our country’s resources can be assessed and quantified as Gross National Product (GNP). Simply put, everything that can be used has a worth.
As rational as the ideas of Gross Domestic and National Product seems, this system of assessment is flawed. Now that you have looked at the items around you, indulge me in a bit of introspection and think back to one of your happiest moments.
How do you place a value on that time? By GDP and GNP’s standards, there is no market value for the scene you just pictured or the feeling of satisfaction you may feel upon reflection. Your happiest moment can instead be categorized under a non-market (or non-use) value. Though you cannot assign a price to it, that instant of happiness adds merit to your life and increases your subjective well-being, or quality of life.
In his 1968 address to the University of Kansas, Robert Kennedy encompassed this idea of non-market value best in saying,
“…gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Often our most valued moments are those that have no market value. This week, I have begun to delve into the literature surrounding subjective well-being (SWB), which I previously alluded to as our overall quality of life. This concept of SWB can be applied in a natural setting as well, despite our attempts to place monetary value to resources such as land, water, and forests. Though these aspects of nature are factored into our GNP, there is an element of worth that we cannot account for with simple market value. For example, many people will donate to rainforest conservation funds even though a large portion of those donors will never set foot in the rainforest themselves. The worth lies in the existence of the forest instead their use of that land.
This summer I am studying subjective well-being surrounding the protection of marine areas on the Oregon coast in the form of five marine reserves. Through administration of survey instruments tailored to our nearby fishing communities, I am working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine the economic and non-market values of these marine areas. Through the use of choice experiments, we aim to gain a more in depth understanding of the subjective well-being of residents in Oregon coast communities as they relate to forest and marine preservation.
I won’t disclose all of the “good stuff” yet, but stay tuned to this blog. I will be updating weekly with photos, articles, and summaries of my time here.