Basic Economics – Something With A Price Is Not Priceless


This is, of course, a mere triviality of the subeditor’s pen:

‘Worthless’ sculpture from BBC’s Fake or Fortune is actually priceless Giacometti worth more than £500,000

That something which has a price is described as priceless is just stupidity. Like saying that something is red and colourless or political and honest. Just something that cannot be true. There’s a price, it’s not priceless.

It’s when it’s used the other way around that we get into problems. When someone says – say the view, or the charming untamed meadow, or summat – is “priceless” meaning that we cannot put a price on it.

Of course we can price something up. There’re only us humans around here to price things up, to value things. Therefore the value is what humans value it at. People do indeed value things like untamed meadows. Maybe not all that much each but a lot of people will apply some amount of value to that meadow making it, in aggregate, quite valuable.

A favourite example of this being the cost benefit analysis for the Cardiff/Severn – or Swansea? – Barrage. People like to know there are mudflats for shore wading birds. So, in the calculation of the cost of the barrage is the loss of the mudflats for shore wading birds. That value being what humans apply to it, not birds.

Of course, here is always the more direct answer. If something is priceless then it has no price. Therefore we can dismiss it from our calculations……