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Value(s): Building a Better World for All    by Mark Carney order for
by Mark Carney
Order:  USA  Can
PublicAffairs, 2021 (2021)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rick Irving

I found it quite an exercise to read this book as the volume of material makes it hard to digest for a non-specialist; however, it is worth the effort.

The main theme is clear. We have allowed the concept of market value to erode our societal values and we need to change course. For example, we think we know how to value labor and can readily assign a dollar value to it. The amount typically reflects a market value, which is why a garbage collector earns much less than a pro basketball player. The societal value of the two is quite different. If the basketball players go on a national strike, so what? If the garbage collectors go on a national strike, we have a serious problem. Similarly, raising children and housework are not valued because they are not priced in the market, but no one doubts both the short-term and long-term value to society of these activities.

Part One of the book makes the case for the erosion of societal values and their replacement with market values. Part Two illustrates this by analyzing three crises Ė the Financial Crisis of 2008, the COVID Crisis, and the Climate Crisis. Part Three presents recommendations for the way forward. While detailed, they are very high level. Partly this is of necessity otherwise the book would be 6000 pages. However, after reading numerous lists of actions for governments, society and corporations, I was left a bit cold. It is one thing to make high level recommendations it is quite another to implement them. And the devil is always in the details.

The focus of this book, value and values, is echoed by other contemporary authors. For example, in The Tyranny of Merit, author Michael Sandel argues that a focus on a meritocracy has generated a culture of winners and losers and that this has had dire consequences for the US (and other countries). These sentiments are revealed in a recent article in the Atlantic by Daniel Markovits entitled How College Became a Ruthless Competition Divorced From Learning.

Other authors have tackled the issues raised by Carney. In The Metric Society, Steffen Mau examines the societal distortions that occur when we rely too much on purely statistical indicators. This reflects the issues raised by Carney regarding the difficulty of quantifying social values. Mau identifies the pernicious impact of inappropriate quantification, reflecting Carney's argument that market value has tended to replace social values. Finally, in Post-Truth, Lee Macintyre details the tactics used by various individuals and groups to replace truth with alternative facts and how this has undercut public trust in institutions and professions.

It is this lack of trust that Carney argues must be redeveloped for our financial, governmental, and organizational institutions to function effectively. This leads to a broader question why now? Why are the issues of value, values, metrics, truth, and institutional trust on the minds of so many academics, government leaders and citizens? Perhaps the reason these issues are front and center for many of us now lies in the social disruptions of the last twenty years. Between 2000 and 20020 the Internet had gone from an entertaining novelty to a necessity and ushered in the fourth Industrial revolution (4IR).

Can you imagine how we would have fared during the pandemic if many of us had not had reliable and extensive Internet service? Video conferencing, which had been just over the horizon for 40 years is now an integral part of our daily lives in the form of Zoom and other services. But this 4IR is only part of the disruption. We had the financial meltdown of 2008 and while we may have recovered financially, emotionally our levels of trust in financial institutions still needs repair. Simultaneously, since 2000 the Climate crisis has grown in the public imagination. Certainly, there are some who disregard the evidence (alternate facts and post-truth?), but the societal consensus appears to be that we need immediate action to protect future generations if not ourselves. Finally, there was the shock of the pandemic which has affected all 7.8 billion of us. Small wonder then that we are intensely stressed.

We are in a situation that Blumenberg in his book Work on Myth calls The Absolutism of Reality. This is a situation where you can't fight, can't hide and there is nowhere to run. It is in these situations of intense stress, Blumenberg argues that myth develops to protect us from an overwhelming reality. Replace myth with alternate facts and here we are. Faced with lack of trust in our governmental and financial institutions and the uncertainties generated by a pandemic it is not surprising that some of us turn to the fantasy of QAnon and other fictions believing that false hope is better than no hope at all.

What Carney attempts in this book, is to provide a fact-based intellectual framework for reforming our institutions and building trust, transparency, and fairness and a hopeful, trusting society. Specifically, Carney argues that seven values and beliefs underpin a successful economy. These are dynamism, resilience, sustainability, fairness, responsibility, solidarity, and humility. His book concludes with a chapter on Humility. He emphasizes that the future is always uncertain, that we canít predict everything, and that chance plays a large role in both success and failure.

Consequently, we need to plan for all foreseeable outcomes and recognize that we never have complete control of events. Humility also recognizes that those who reap great rewards must take great responsibility. A good thought on which to end.

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