A lot of libertarians falsely believe that there is such as thing as intrinsic, or natural, value. People who believe gold has intrinsic value will spout off the industrial uses that gold has. But all value is subjective. What may be worth a great deal to one person may be entirely worthless to another. For example, lithium may be very valuable to a company that builds batteries. Lithium may also be valuable to people who sell resources to battery manufacturers. Lithium will likely be seen as worthless to a hunter-gatherer tribe in the Amazon which neither knows about batteries or selling resources to manufacturers.
What may be the best example of the subjectivity of value though are “precious” gems:
RIGHT NOW, IN A VAULT controlled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, there sits a 752-pound emerald with no rightful owner. This gem is the size of a minifridge. It weighs as much as two sumo wrestlers. Estimates of its worth range from a hundred bucks to $925 million.
$100 to $952 million is quite the range.
“Precious” gems are a good illustrator of the subjectivity of value because their primary use is decorative. While some gems, such as diamonds, have a plethora of industrial uses, others are used far less. But many people find them pretty and the simple fact of being pretty can make something extremely valuable in the eyes of some.
I would certainly value a 752-pound emerald higher than $100 because novelty is worth something to me but I wouldn’t value it anywhere near $1 million, let alone $925 million.
If value is subjective, how can the value of something be determined? Through the market. The amount something can be sold for is its value. The iPhone X, for example, is worth $999.00 for the 64GB model and $1,149.00 256GB model. While I personally don’t view either model to be worth their respective prices, I feel safe in saying that they’re priced appropriately because they’re flying off the shelves.