Profaning the Sacred? Economic
Valuation of the Natural Environment
To many, even the suggestion that we might try to measure scenic beauty in dollar terms seems silly. This reaction is based on the feeling that such a thing cannot be done, and that, even if it were possible, it should not be done.
In Chapter Four we tried to indicate why it not only can be but is done regularly by homebuyers, land developers, tourists, recreationists, and others. Here we wish to deal with whether it should be done.
The chief objection to stating noncommercial values in dollar terms is that this represents an intrusion of the commercial mentality into realms from which such attitudes have been appropriately excluded. That mentality includes the conscious weighing of personal gain and loss and the quantification of value judgments -- in short, a selfish, calculating mind.
Our poets and pundits have well expressed this objection:
An economist is one who knows the price of everything
but the value of nothing.
High Heaven rejects the lore of nicely calculated less or more. -- Wordsworth, "Inside of King's College Chapel"
Christ did chase the moneylenders from the temple. The Protestant Reformation was partially fueled by revulsion against the sale of God's favors in the form of indulgences. The taking of bribes is a serious crime in almost all societies. And whatever its legal status, prostitution is rarely an elevated profession. There are some fields of endeavor in which commercial pursuits undermine and degrade the values that we are pursuing rather than satisfying them: family and community relationships, religion, public trust, loyalty, and the protection of human life itself.