Non-Use Value, Contingent Value
(1) As a matter of public policy, the economic concept of “Non-use values” is at the center of political controversies concerning the environment. This is understandable: economics, for all its attempts to bring systematic order – or at least understanding – to the process of “Use values” interaction, is, at heart, always a political process. That is, human concepts of value are involved, values that are affected by such factors as morality, aesthetics, political philosophy, occupation, and the like. Indeed, emotions play a major part in human activities; it is remarked frequently that elections are influenced as much by last-minute emotional responses as by the reasoned judgement of the electorate. Socrates was condemned to death by an impassioned democratic vote, not well-considered legal debate. Emotions – human concepts of value – lie at the center of all political action. And political action is the final arbiter of economic policy. It is no wonder, then, that such an open-ended concept as Non-use values should provoke controversy; by its very nature Non-use values invite a conflict of interpretations.
Adopting the definition of Cicchetti and Wilde (1992, p. 1121) as a convenient starting point, Non-use values can be described thus:
Nonuse values measure aspects of the resource’s value to individuals which individuals are not linked to actual resource use by the individual.
The resources being considered are natural resources, although one could apply the Non-use criteria to other intangibly valued resources, such as the arts (and, appropriately, there is a controversy raging in Washington right now over “Contract with America” cuts in arts funding and other “nonessential” budget items). Non-use values as applied to natural resources stand in contrast to Use values: a definite, monetary value can be placed on the timber in an acre of redwood forest, for example – if a fire were to destroy that forested acre, i…