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I was reading Sr. Margaret M. McKenna’s writings in School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism. She discussed the first mark of the new monasticism: relocation to the abandoned places of the empire.

“Relocation expresses conversion and commitment, the decision to resist imperial pressures and the pleasures and rewards of conformity to the way of all empires: pride, power and the reduction of all value to the bottom line.”

The “reduction of all value to the bottom line” struck me. As radical as I may be compared to Joe the Plumber, I still find myself susceptible to this method of thinking. I often still find myself using money as the ultimate standard for assigning value.

Ideas, programs and initiatives are rejected all of the time because they aren’t cost effective. They’re too expensive to be feasible. Our world operates according to a system which assigns and compares the monetary value to goods and services. The question is ultimately reduced to what the bottom line is: black or red.

My problem with this system is that money is not the only way to measure value. What if our concept of value included not only the cost of a good or service, but the quality of life of the employee who provided it? What if value included the environmental impact of providing this good or service?

The Story of Stuff outlines this concept well. Many of the goods we buy have a much greater value than the cost at which we find them in the store. To find the true worth of a good, we must consider not only its cost in the store, but cost to the standard of living for the workers in the third world who produced it and cost to the environment as natural resources were gathered and processed. Value could be computed as: $12.95 in the store + 6 workers on starvation wages working 14 hour days + 2 acres of arable land destroyed + 3 tons of carbon released into the atmosphere.

Ultimately, limiting the bottom line strictly to money is too narrow of a definition and fails to capture true worth.