The Value Crisis

About the Book

From dollars to democracy,
how numbers are ruining our world

"There is now this pervasive belief in our society that numbers hold all the answers.  And so we use numbers to evaluate options and make our most important decisions.

However, numbers are inherently linear and limitless, whereas human values are not.  Number-based value systems therefore have no concept of "enough" - more is always better.

As numerical/monetary systems are adopted as increasingly exclusive measures of value, natural values (such as culture, health, social justice, well-being, biodiversity, etc.) are displaced.  This creates a conflict which has ultimately led to a Value Crisis.

This Value Crisis is at the root of both our Environmental Crisis and our Financial Crisis.  What is needed is a fundamental recognition of non-numeric values at the individual level, and a return to having human values effectively represented at the group level."

  -  Andrew Welch, author



There's mounting evidence that humanity is on the verge – if not in the midst – of not one but multiple global crises, including economic meltdown, environmental degradation, resource scarcity, and energy shortages.  While we all see the urgency of the problems, there is a disconnect between the consequences of these crises and our present behaviours.  Actions that most likely caused our current predicament not only continue, we seem to be desperately striving for their unhindered acceleration. We use debt to conjure up trillions of dollars from nothing; we voraciously run through our planet’s limited resources; and we recklessly contaminate our environment with waste, by-products, and dangerous substances.  Why?

Humans are pretty smart creatures, who are generally well-meaning and interested in our continued presence and progress on this planet.  Many of us are more aware than ever of the impacts of our choices and are adopting new habits to address them.  Yet it is hard not to feel helpless and frustrated by society’s apparent insanity.  The train is heading off the rails and still we can’t help but madly shovel coal into the boiler.  Why?

Why do we have to consume and throw out so much stuff?
Why do certain individuals get paid so much money for doing so little?
Why do we seem to have less time than previous generations, not more?
Why does it cost more to repair things than to replace them?
Why do we consciously choose to poison our own natural environment?
Why are labour disruptions, disliked on all sides, still common?
Why do we in democracies disagree so much with our own leaders and governments?
Why are so many of us not even sure what makes us happy anymore?

The Value Crisis proposes answers to these questions by exploring the intersection of two potent concepts: values and numbers.  Our behaviours, both individually and collectively, are determined by our values, which allow us to evaluate and prioritize options.  We make decisions using two very different kinds of value systems: human value systems, whose evolution is as old as our species, and number-based value systems, which appeared more recently in our history.  Human values, which include our survival impulses, morals, beliefs, cultures, welfare, and happiness, are diverse and unquantifiable.  Number-based values, on the other hand, are values which are exclusively measured by numeric quantity: as the quantity goes up, the value goes up in exactly the same proportion (money being the most common example).

The critical difference between these two systems comes from the nature of numbers themselves: Numbers are inherently linear and limitless, whereas human values, being qualitative, are not.  Number-based value systems have no concepts of “enough” or “too much” – such terms have no meaning within a strictly numeric scale.  Any value that is measured by number – a person’s possible net worth, for example – is unbounded; you can always add more.  Thus, any undertaking with an objective of maximizing value measured by number is a never-ending quest, and that is what gets us into trouble.

Number-based value systems are not wrong, but since they lack the feedback loops necessary to manage themselves, they can easily get out of control. They are therefore unsustainable as the primary foundation of civilization’s decision-making, and we must question their precedence and exclusivity.  Society has evolved to where number-based value systems like money are needed to manage our immediate and future needs, but there are also the needs of others and of the planet, all of which require different value systems, all of which are in constant conflict.  The Value Crisis explains why those differences are responsible for our difficulty in collectively taking effective action in response to the toughest challenges civilization has ever faced.

Read the detailed chapter summary!

218 pages, 6"x9"
Aanimad Press
ISBN 978-0-9879105-0-9


Copyright © 2009-24 Andrew Welch