December 1, 2000 (Ira Pilgrim)

Value and Price

He knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Author unknown

One of my grown children recently asked me what I would do if someone offered me a million dollars for my house. I said that I would not consider selling it for any amount. That is because my house has great value to me because I designed and built it. It is where I want to spend the rest of my life. I am sure that it would not be as valued by someone else, which is why no one is likely to offer me even a quarter of a million.

"Value" is a personal thing, in contrast to "price," which is how much money a person wants for something. Money has little value to me because my annuity and Social Security provide all of the money that I need. My needs have always been modest. If I didn't have what I needed, it might be more important to me. A person would get the same response if he made me an offer for my wife. I might consider loaning her, but she is definitely not for sale; which makes her priceless to me. Besides, I don't own her and she is not mine to sell, trade, rent or barter.

Things of real value can rarely be purchased. The most valuable thing is time and it is something that Bill Gates or Sam Walton can't buy with all of their billions. Yet most people squander that commodity. I know that I have. I am still not sure what use of time can be considered as "well spent." Another thing is health and a long life that is relatively free from pain. They can't be bought.

I have bought some life-time, thanks to two surgeons and all of the many people in the past who developed and refined the techniques and methods that they used, as well as all of the people who contributed to my treatment and recuperation. Yet, the time that I bought was as available to me as it would be to a billionaire. It might not be available to someone in the third world or to someone who was poverty stricken. Therefore I consider myself to be much more fortunate than if I had won the grand prize in the state lottery.

In primitive cultures, wealth is measured by things that can either be eaten or traded . In some African tribes, which probably haven't changed much since the beginning of recorded history, wealth can be measured in terms of the number of cattle owned. Cattle can be traded for goods or for wives; at least for members of the male sex. Females can't own much.

At the turn of the century and before, the definition of "wealth" was a bit different from what it is today. It was measured in land owned, rather than money. A person who owned a lot of land could build on it and hire people to farm it, thus producing food, which is the necessary ingredient to survival.

The right person, such as the King of Spain, could simply have some explorer claim land in his name and it was his. It didn't matter that the land was occupied by other people. If those people didn't like the king appropriating the land, they would simply be kicked off of it, or killed. He wouldn't try it with someone who was more powerful than he was. What is truly amazing is that when those stolen lands that were given to loyal subjects of the king, those king's land grants were considered proof of ownership by the governments of the US and California. It made no difference that the land in question was already occupied by the indigenous people when the conquerors arrived.

Now the standard measure of wealth is in dollars. With enough money, almost any piece of "private" land can be legally purchased, provided the owner was willing to sell it.

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