Must we agree on more than just price?

Coordination through the price system has been well studied and the coordinating aspects of price signals are appreciated among economists and non-economists alike. This paper argues that the coordination processes which take place within markets are often shaped by other systems of non-price coordination. These non-price coordination systems, or orders of worth as we call them, can be thought of as emergent orders just like the price system is an emergent order; they are sources of justification that can be drawn upon to warrant the worth of diverse artifacts and the legitimacy of trading them. We show that Adam Smith’s theory of sympathy hints towards the need for such non-price coordination systems and offers conceptual means for analyzing the emergence of such orders. We link Smith with contemporary work in economic sociology and we distinguish, following a framework developed by Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot, between different orders of worth, we explain how they can help us understand the justification of the exchange and value of contested goods and we apply this theoretical framework to cases of art, life and reproduction.

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