People often speak about universal values and human rights, things that apply no matter where you come from or what you believe in. A lot of these are related to the economy - labor rights, rights in the workplace, consumer rights, and access to education, to name a few. It’s difficult to live in an economy that doesn’t reflect your values, because you’ll be expected from those around you to abide by certain social norms that perhaps don’t sit with how you view the world.
But is there such a thing as universal values? So many of our values differ hugely between cultures. The values we end up adopting aren’t necessarily an intrinsic part of who we are, but instead are a consequence of the surroundings we’ve grown up in. If we’d been born into a different family, religion, or region, there’s no telling whether we’d have turned into a totally different person.
But perhaps it's a two-way process. Economies shape values as much as values shape economies. If hard work and high productivity is rewarded financially, eventually people's values might shift along with it. An economy that's based on natural resources and tourism might value respect for nature more than a manufacturing-oriented economy.
At the root of so many of the debates around economics and the economy are values that clash with each other - until we speak about them openly, we’ll never get to the bottom of our differences and establish an economy that works for everyone.