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HICKS: What silly bands say about the value of things

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Mike Hicks

In the Hicks household, this will long be remembered as the “summer of silly bands.” If you have not heard of these wondrous items, you must count yourself as culturally uninformed and wholly ignorant of the prime conversation starter at swimming pools, soccer camps and other summertime venues.

Because at least one gentle reader is likely unacquainted with silly bands, I shall fulfill a duty of explaining these rubber marvels and their economic significance.

Silly bands are thin rubber bracelets that come in delightful shapes, including hearts, donkeys, cars, violins and tanks (the latter is a personal favorite). 

These items sell at convenience stores—oftentimes very quickly according to the folks at the cash registers. It is important to note that children trade silly bands. The goal, according to those urchins I have queried, is to have an extreme variety in colors and shapes. The rarity of silly bands is important, and, as I understand it, a glow-in-the-dark kelly-green monkey vies with the gray U-boat or orange flamingo for scarcity, and therefore value.

There are economic lessons here. The most important is that the value of things is necessarily determined by what is known in econo-jargon as utility. The notion of utility tells us that it is the desire for and scarcity of an item that generate its value in a market exchange. Now, this is very deep philosophical stuff, since it clearly implies that in our worldly realm, it is humans alone that set the value of things.

Thus, there are no truly intrinsic values to nature, life and the like. This idea of value is also a deeply egalitarian, intellectually rigorous and honest approach to the world. This notion is easily misunderstood, for the absence of an intrinsic value for something does not mean it is less valuable—only that it is human preferences, not dogma, that make that judgment.

It manifests itself elegantly. Here’s an example: 

Suppose we thought that our natural surroundings had an intrinsic value. Then, any one acre of land would be just as valuable as another. Yet, the 843 acres of Central Park in New York are hugely valuable, even though they are not for sale. That’s not because it sits near other high-priced real estate, but because green space is scarce in New York and well-liked by New Yorkers.

This value metric is also consistent with the deepest beliefs. For example, human life has value, but in our eyes is not equally valuable. We all know this and act routinely this way. By way of illustration, by my reckoning, wearers of silly bands are more valuable than business columnists. 

Economists exploit these truths to estimate the relative value of cleaning air or water, or building more green spaces. This is a critical notion for informing public policy about investments in the environment and other things that cannot be as easily traded, or valued, as silly bands.•

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Hicks is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cber@bsu.edu.

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  1. I think the poster was being sarcastic and only posting or making fun of what is usually posted on here about anything being built in BR or d'town for that matter.

  2. Great news IRL fans: TURBO the IMS sanctioned movie about slugs running the Indy 500 has caught the Securities and Exchange Commission because Dreamworks had to take a $132MILLION write down...because the movie was such a flop. See, the Indy/IMS magic soiled another pair of drawers. Bwahahahahahaha! How's CARTOWN doing? HAHAHAHA...Indy is for losers.

  3. So disappointed in WIBC. This is the last straw to lose a good local morning program. I used to be able to rely on WIBC to give me good local information, news, weather and traffic on my 45 minute commute.Two incidents when I needed local, accurate information regarding severe weather were the first signs I could not now rely on WIBC. I work weekend 12 hour nights for a downtown hospital. This past winter when we had the worst snowfall in my 50 years of life, I came home on a Sunday morning, went to sleep (because I was to go back in Sunday night for another 12 hour shift), and woke up around 1 p.m. to a house with no electricity. I keep an old battery powered radio around and turned on WIBC to see what was going on with the winter storm and the roads and the power outage. Sigh. Only policital stuff. Not even a break in to update on the winter storm warning. The second weather incident occurred when I was driving home during a severe thunderstorm a few months ago. I had already gotten a call from my husband that a tornado warning was just southwest of where I had been. I turned to WIBC to find out what direction the storm was headed so I could figure out a route home, only to find Rush on the air, and again, no breaking away from this stupidity to give me information. Thank God for my phone, which gave me the warning that I was driving in an area where a tornado was seen. Thanks for nothing WIBC. Good luck to you, Steve! We need more of you and not the politics of hatred that WIBC wants to shove at us. Good thing I have Satellite radio.

  4. I read the retail roundup article and tried Burritos and Beers tonight. I'm glad I did, for the food was great. Fresh authentic Mexican food. Great seasoning on the carne asada. A must try!!! Thanks for sharing.

  5. John, unfortunately CTRWD wants to put the tank(s) right next to a nature preserve and at the southern entrance to Carmel off of Keystone. Not exactly the kind of message you want to send to residents and visitors (come see our tanks as you enter our city and we build stuff in nature preserves...

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