A Question of Worth

A Question of Worth
I B Tauris.(19 Sept.. 2016)
ISBN 978-1-7845-3591-9

A book of social theory and contemporary commentary.

Rowan Williams
Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge
Former Archbishop of Canterbury

“A genuinely essential book.  It draws from an unusually wide range of first-hand experience as well as theoretical sophistication, and provides an unsparing diagnosis of the lethal vacancy at the centre of our culture.  We have so shrunk and redefined what we mean by value that individuals and institutions alike are going through varieties of inner (and often outer) disintegration.  The challenge is how we are to restore both a connected social reality and a critical social imagination.  Deploying social science, psychology, ethics and theology together.  Chris Steed gives us cause for hope as well as anxiety.”

“The great questions of the day are questions of value. We dwell in a world haunted by escalating inequality and environmental degradation; at world at risk from global terrorism and impersonal forces. It is a world where the natural sphere with which we interact so profoundly has lost its sacred quality and become a resource; a world conditioned by progressive domination of a monetary scale applied impermissibly across the board. Amidst the astounding technology, the niche consumption and the financialisation that characterises much of the globe, the prevailing mood music is that the only values we can only usefully measure are expressed in terms of economics. The near vacuum of ideals means that constantly, incessantly, we are back to numbers, to the balance sheet. As a result, our way of life is characterised by fragmentation and by a short-term focus on profit.

“Whether it is called the Greater Good, the Common Good or the Collaborative Commons, in the realm where we are more than isolated entities, measures of quantity and numbers are unavoidable. Yet quality is also vital to human flourishing. What after all is wealth for? What kind of society do we want to be in? What price the non-quantifiable and non-economic goods that make life worthwhile?

“Our journey will take us through contemporary landscapes in which our current model of economy and society focuses on how what you are worth depends on measures of quantity – how much you have or earn. These arenas give rise to significant casualties. The value and worth of people is under assault in contemporary society. Yet a question is inescapable. Can we do things differently? What would a different way of organising the economy look like?”


“The prevailing ethos of the modern world is that the only values we can usefully measure are those that can be expressed in terms of economics. Our value and worth are contingent upon what we earn and on what we own. Yet the outcome of the global economic crash of recent years has shown that it is people who have been under assault, not just financial value: erode the economic and you erode the personal. Drawing upon his experience in government, education and the church, the author questions whether our market economy must also mean a market society. What price the non-quantifiable and non-economic goods that make life worthwhile? He argues that the really important issues that frame the contemporary human situation are those that cannot be measured. In a timely and pioneering work, he calls for a wider concept of value, one that encompasses both economic value and human worth.

From a Review:

Steed offers a wise and timely essay on the ills of our era which erode the value of the human in favour of the quantification of economic price: we know the price (but not the cost) of everything and everybody, and understand the value of nothing. Chris is an Anglican parish priest, a psychotherapist, and an academic, who fuses sociology, theology, and personal experience in a well-informed and accessible diagnosis of how we got into our chronic crisis of human devaluation’.

Rowan Williams:

‘A genuinely essential book. It draws from an unusually wide range of first hand experience as well as theoretical sophistication and provides an unsparing diagnosis of the lethal vacancy at the centre of our culture.’

Matthew Taylor: 

‘A deeply thoughtful and challenging book. It is a timely contribution to a debate many of us should be having’.