The Challenges of Financial Planning: Value and “Do You Love Me?”

Somethings are very easy to measure. Others are less so.

One of the criticisms I have for most packaged planning and financial products in our industry is illustrated well within the quote below.

Our scales of value change. We forget (choose to forget, sometimes) that what we strongly value today may change over time.

Additionally, knowing that the passing of time will change many factors, it is easier to rank our preferences today and accept that changes will be made in the future.

I found this illustration in a writing by Gary North. I hope you find it interesting and helpful.


A wife asks: “Do you love me?” Her husband dutifully answers: “Of course I do.” She presses the issue: “How much do you love me?” He answers: “A lot.” She continues: “Do you love me more than you used to love your ex-girlfriend?” He replies: “Yes, I do.” So far, we are still in the realm of subjective value.

She presses the issue. “You used to be wild about her. I remember. You don’t act very wild about me. Do you love me more now than you loved her back then?” This raises the question of the permanence of value scales over time. The problem is, these scales of value change. Also, we forget what they were, and how intensely they registered with us. A truth-telling husband may reply: “I just don’t remember.” Or he may say, “I love you more now than I loved her back then,” mentally defining “love” to make the statement true. But how can he be sure what he felt back then? His memory has faded, along with his passion. This is the philosophical problem of subjective valuation through time. No one on earth possesses a permanent subjective value scale that measures changes in one’s temporal subjective value scale.

Next, she moves to objective value. “Exactly how much more do you love me than you used to love her?” Now he faces a dilemma, both personal and epistemological. She has moved from a consideration of his subjective scale of values to an objective measure of subjective value. Here is his epistemological dilemma: there is no objective measure of subjective value. A subjective value scale is ordinal – first, second, third – rather than cardinal, i.e., “exactly this much more.” Subjective values are ranked, not measured.

A wise husband with a knowledge of the Bible might try to end the discussion by saying, “I love you more than rubies.” Solomon said something like this. “Who can find a virtuous woman for her price is far above rubies?” (Proverbs 31:10). But even Solomon did not say exactly how much above rubies her price is.

There is no objective measure of subjective values. A diamond may be forever; it does not measure subjective value. Nothing on earth does.”


About Christopher Hessenflow

Christopher Hessenflow is a financial planner in the Chicago area. He works with all sorts of people who are much more interesting than he is. He enjoys his career which lends him time to think and, sometimes, be creative. Chip was born bald.
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