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It’s really important to understand value

Summary:
This is from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation but it’s a common enough error out there. Common and pernicious: The textiles system operates in an almost completely linear way: large amounts of non-renewable resources are extracted to produce clothes that are often used for only a short time, after which the materials are mostly sent to landfill or incinerated. More than USD 500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilisation and the lack of recycling.This is nonsense. There is that foolishness about non-renewable resources of course. Cotton, flax, wool, silk, they’re all things that grow and so are renewable. As for the oil derived plastics the current complaint is that we’ve more of that raw material than we can allow ourselves to use. If we’re going to talk about water

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This is from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation but it’s a common enough error out there. Common and pernicious:

The textiles system operates in an almost completely linear way: large amounts of non-renewable resources are extracted to produce clothes that are often used for only a short time, after which the materials are mostly sent to landfill or incinerated. More than USD 500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilisation and the lack of recycling.

This is nonsense. There is that foolishness about non-renewable resources of course. Cotton, flax, wool, silk, they’re all things that grow and so are renewable. As for the oil derived plastics the current complaint is that we’ve more of that raw material than we can allow ourselves to use. If we’re going to talk about water and the like then we’ve a rather large recycling system out there composed of oceans and clouds.

But the gross error is about value. The only useful measure of value we’ve got is what we humans value things at. For there are only us humans around to be doing the valuing. Such human valuations are also entirely the liberty of the individual doing the valuing. We might, say, value Geoff Hurst’s second half ‘66 shirt rather more than a pair of used khaki BVDs after a Ten Tors challenge completion. Same amount of cotton thread in there perhaps, amount of labour, resources consumed, but humans can be odd that way.

People “underuse” their clothes by whose calculation that is? Given that the only possible proper valuation is according to the precepts of those doing the using - rather than some tongue clucking observer - that the clothes are used exactly as much as they are is proof that they are not underused.

Further, if value were gained - or even not lost - by recycling then more recycling would be done. As with Ferraris not appearing on scrap heaps and Yugos doing so.

The very concept of the $500 billion is wrong. Which does rather mean that we shouldn’t be using it as an input into any decision making process we might impose upon society.


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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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