My two cents

Wednesday, Dec 10, 2008 1:10 pm
William Barnes

How much is an opinion worth nowadays? I was inspired by a comment on LifeHacker that ended “Just my $0.10”. It would seem to indicate that this particular user valued his opinion at five times the value of your average two cent opinion. It’s interesting because I often see a two cent valuation on long and thought out articles, whereas this ten cent opinion was pretty short and of dubious value. But it got me thinking. What does this phrase say about the value of our opinions?

One source cites poker as the origin of this phrase. “Put my two cents in” is a modernization of “put my two bits in.” A bit is an eighth of something and if Groundhog Day is assumed to be authoritative, then two bits is equal to one quarter ($0.25). That would seem to indicate that once we got rid of pieces o’ eight, our opinions devalued by 92%.

Another source suggests that the phrase comes from a time when postage in Britain was two pence: sending someone your opinion cost a tuppence. It makes sense that the wording would change on the other side of the Atlantic, but does this mean that a British opinion is worth (at the moment) 1.86 times a Canadian one? And, for that matter, is an American opinion worth 1.25 times a Canadian one? Was the American opinion worth slightly less over the summer relative to Canadian opinions? Some might argue that the fact that we elected Harper and the Americans Obama shows the wisdom of this method of valuation. Those people would be Liberals.

Also problematic with this explanation is the switch to decimal money in the UK. The old penny was worth 5/12 of a decimal penny. So on Decimal Day, the value of a British opinion jumped to 240% of its previous value. And even more problematic is that once we start taking into consideration the exchange rates and decimal conversion, we have to account for inflation.

The two penny stamp was introduced in 1840. 2d in 1840 should be worth about 146d now or 61p (taking into account inflation and the decimal change). So at about the time Dickens was writing A Christmas Carol, his opinion was worth roughly 73 times that of JK Rowling’s today. This does lead us down an interesting alley. Perhaps the worth of an opinion is tied to the cost of carrying it. That would make a modern British opinion worth 36p, a Canadian worth $0.52CAD, and an American worth $0.42. There is a certain elegance to this method, but it suffers because the same thought could be worth different amounts based on where you send it or what method you use. Email is free. Wait, that probably works in favour of the postage theory. A letter to the States costs $0.96CAD. So my opinion would be worth more if I gave it to an American than to a Canadian. That doesn’t seem right.

I’m not quite sure how to calculate the relative value of opinions. The only certain thing is that opinions are worth less now than they used to be. That may well be true; it’s supply and demand. 150 years ago there were fewer opinions. Nowadays there’s an opinion everywhere you look, whether you want it or not, so people attach less value. That’s my two cents (I couldn’t resist, I’m sorry).