The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do

At the bottom of this post I’m giving away a few copies of a new book from NY Times editorial board member, Eduardo Porter. Make sure you read on to find out how you can win as well as read some really interesting examples of PRICE such as the value of human life and what politicians spent per vote in 2008.

When you think of PRICE what do you think of? Shopping? How much money you’ll have to spend to get something you want? The cost of an iPad, new shoes or a dress?

That’s certainly one form of PRICE but it’s actually so much more.

What about The Price of Happiness? The Price of Life? The Price of Work? The Price of Faith? The Price of Free? Or even The Price of the Future?

PRICE is about choice, priorities, and the value or worth that we set. That value drives our decisions and shapes our lives in more ways than we might initially think. After all, everything has a PRICE doesn’t it? From consumer goods to our time, every choice in where we’ll invest our resources has to do with PRICE.

But PRICE isn’t fixed. You and I might see PRICE in a totally different ways because the PRICE we’re willing to pay is shaped by a variety of things. While I might be willing to pay $10 for a collectible card, you might think it’s only worth $1. And while I might be willing to invest 4 hours of my week on Social Media, you might think that same use of time is worthless.

Everything we do, every choice we make boils down to PRICE.

This is why understanding PRICE is critical in deciphering why people do what they do. Knowing this help us better understand our world, why we make the decisions we do and why others make the choices they make. This knowledge, when used properly, can give you a competitive advantage in business and in life.

This is why I was intrigued when I ran across a new book by NY Times editorial board member, Eduardo Porter. His book, The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do, starts with a simple premise: there is a price behind each choice that we make, whether we’re deciding to have a baby, drive a car, or buy a book. We often fail to appreciate just how critical prices are as motivating forces shaping our lives. But their power becomes clear when distorted prices steer our decisions the wrong way.

This book is an amazing eye-opener that will make you think. Not only think but expose you to some realities about PRICE that could shift your perspective in powerful ways. I’ll post a few other tidbits from the book below such as how you can win a copy, an intro chapter, short video and a few links to interesting articles and stats from the book… things like the estimated value of a human life and The Price of a Vote… how Obama spent $10.50 per vote in his 2008 campaign (that spent $730 million overall).

Download the intro chapter here (PDF) if you’d like. You can order the book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or anywhere books are sold. You can also visit Eduardo’s blog to read more from him.

Oh, and by the way… The Price of Happiness, The Price of Life, The Price of Work, The Price of Faith, The Price of Free, and The Price of the Future that I listed above… those are all chapter titles from the book. There are a few more as well but you can read them all when you pick up a copy.


I’m giving away copies of the book to the first 10 25 50 people who comment on this post. Simply post a comment here and if you are one of the first I’ll email you back to get your mailing address. [ UPDATE: We’ve reached our giveaway limit but don’t let that stop you from picking up a copy of this book. Even if we don’t know each other, trust me… this book is well worth the $15 price. I’m 100% positive it will impact you as it has many others! Order now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or wherever books are sold . Feel free to also post a comment here and join in on the conversation about PRICE or your thoughts on some of the price stats I’ve listed below. ]


Feel free to share this video with others.


Information below originally posted on The Huffington Post (read the full article here).

$.79 = What advertisers paid to put a 30 second commercial in front of each of the 10.6 million households watching “Desperate Housewives” in 2009.

$10.50 = The cost of each vote Barack Obama received in 2008, based on his campaign spending of $730 million. John McCain only spent $5.60 for each of his votes.

$65 = What Montgomery Ward charged for a one-speed bicycle in 1895 -– the equivalent of 6.5 weeks of work for the typical worker. Today the firm will sell a multispeed model for $350, which is only 19 hours of work for the average consumer.

$999 = The cost of the “I Am Rich” iPhone app, which did nothing but flash a glowing red gem on the screen. Six people bought it before Apple pulled it from the App Store.

$75,000 = Tom Cruise’s fee for Risky Business in 1983. Over the next 25 years his fee (including profit participation) would spike to over $75 million for Mission Impossible II.

$7,500,000 = The estimated value of a human life, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, in 2009 dollars. On the other hand, the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund paid an average of $2 million to the next of kin of 2,880 terrorism victims.


Many of the prices we pay seem to make little sense. We shell out $2.29 for a coffee at Starbucks when a nearly identical brew can be had at the corner deli for less than a dollar. We may be less willing to give blood for $25 than to donate it for free. Americans hire the cheap labor of illegal immigrants to fix the roof or mow the lawn and vote for politicians who promise to spend billions to keep them out of the country. And citizens of the industrialized West pay hundreds of dollars a year in taxes or cash for someone to cart away trash that would be a valuable commodity in poorer parts of the world.

Eduardo Porter uncovers the true story behind the prices we pay and reveals what those prices are actually telling us. Porter weaves together the constant-and often unconscious-cost and value assessments we all make every day. While exploring the fascinating story behind the price of everything from marriage and death to mattresses and horsemeat, Porter draws unexpected connections that bridge a wide range of disciplines and cultures. The result is a cogent and insightful narrative about how the world really works.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Chris McVeigh

    Interesting views and linked to so many current issues in all walks of life. Continues the debate between Price and Value.
    Would be very interesting to understand the mechanics of the brain and the speed at which it helps us formulate the Price element in our decision making process.

    • Good points to ponder Chris. I'm sure that over time we condition ourselves, by our repetitive actions and our environments, to make some of these PRICE decisions almost automatically without really weighing the value.

  • Simple graphics, powerful music, thought and feeing-provoking images and questions – ultimately I was left wondering how much of my life's time- the ultimate price- was I willing to spend and for what experiences and materials goods. I am going to figure this one out on my 10 mile training run-a cost designed to lengthen my earthbound journey and to optimize the quality of my miles.

    I am also going to refer friends and family and clients to this video.

    • Thanks Pamela. It really is thought provoking isn't it?

  • Jessicia

    Kinda sad I am not in the 1st 50 but I will seriously consider buying this just for the entertainment value!

    • Thanks Jessica. It's well worth it. More than entertainment value. It's education and if applied, can change your perspective in ways that might benefit you and your life. 🙂

  • Bob Mires

    Interesting concept – that each choice we make can be quantified monitarily, that there is a "price" for everything. I look forward to new insights into my own, and others, behavior, and motivations that drive that behavior.

    • Thanks Bob. You'll love it. It's very insightful.

  • Joshua Nitz

    sounds very interesting and insightful… very nice.

  • Roberta Mansell

    Looks like a VERY good book! Thank you for posting it!

  • taylorsinflorida

    sharing is free

    • Yes but the time it takes you to share is at a cost (your cost, your time). 🙂

  • Loretta

    The topics are interesting. I agree that prices are driving a lot of daily decisions for most of the human beings except those super wealthy individuals. It is be good to get a copy to see how “prices” work in more lively examples.

    • I think PRICE drives decisions regardless of economic status. It's still choice, just on different scales.

  • Santosh Varghese

    We should not forget that nothing is free. Even salvation costed..However it was for God who gave his only son Jesus Christ…Without Price, you will not get anything. The only difference is who pays the price for you……????

    • Indeed Santosh. You should pick up a copy of the book and read the chapter on The Price of Faith. It's such an interesting perspective.

  • Damaris Olaechea

    Thanks for sharing!

  • nina

    You always have to pay the price whether you choose good or bad, to love or destroy, to pay the hight price or the minimal price. Your chose! The results will tell you if you choose wisely. That is what I like about the price we pay:)

    • Excellent point Nina. As long as we have choice, price will always be different between each of us.

  • Fascinating Title. As a young man I heard it said about a colleague that "he knew the price of everything but the value of nothing " and ever since I have tried to understand the $ price of anything as the manefestation of a perception of value . greg

    • Great point Greg. Sometimes we place value on things that aren't really valuable at all.

  • Sue

    Can’t wait to read the book.

    • Love for you to stop back by after you do and let us know what your thoughts were.

  • This seems a fascinating and exciting way of looking at how we price goods. Sounds like something everyone should read

  • Paul Bailey

    Your blog got me interested enough to order the book. Thanks

  • Tim

    Fascinating subject why a person does what they do especially when there are alternatives that appear comparable and cheaper. Can't wait to read the book.

  • Cherie Houck

    This sounds like a wonderful book to learn what people are thinking and why they do what they do. I agree with the commnet below – that we pay a price for every choice we make. I don't think most people think of it like that. While it might not be monetary, it could cost a job or an opportunity.

    • Indeed. Some things cost a lot and we have no idea.

  • Lynda

    What a different perspective! Now, I need to read the book. Thanks for sharing – I don't even care that I am not in the first 50 people to comment – I will get this book.

  • Cathy Sexton

    This sounds like a wonderful book, full of ideas/information that can make us all stop and think about "prices". I also love the video.

    • Yeah, the video turned out really well didn't it?

  • James

    The book sounds fascinating and I would love to receive a copy. Maybe, I'll get lucky and you'll have 75 copies to give away 🙂

    • Sorry James… had to cap it off at 50 but I hope you'll order a copy. Well worth the $15 PRICE. 🙂

  • Sandra J Rowe

    I think what we will pay for anything varies with time and circumstance. Everything is a choice and my priorities shift as I change (hopefully). What I try to keep in mind is something a friend said years ago when uprooting her life as she knew it and moving across the country–the only decision you can not take back and change is the decision ot have kids. Seems to work for me.

    • That's certainly an interesting way to look at it. 🙂

  • Hareem

    Seems like an amazing book! Would love to have a copy to learn from

  • Emmanuel Ibezimako

    Definitely we pay a price for a every decisions we made or ever make in life. For example, If you choose to go to school, you have to pay the price for the time and hard-work it needs to get educated. If you choose not to go to school, you also pay for the ignorance that will follow you for the rest of your life. Every decision in life have a price.

    I would love to read this book

  • DMT

    Interesting how Obama spent $730 million when his campaign only raised about $150 million. Hmmm…could be you've been listening to right wing propaganda.

  • 🙂 It's worth it Brent.

  • Lisa

    Sounds very interesting. Always looking for great reading material

  • Obviously didn't make the cut, but I'm fascinated by the topic. I've written a little about pricing and would love to hear what he has to says about it.

  • Just went over to amazon to add it to my wishlist only to find that the Kindle version is MORE expensive than the paper version. I've been seeing this more and more and I don't understand the logic that the publisher has for this.

    i know it's off topic, just had to get it off my chest.

  • Pingback: What is the Price?()

  • Susan

    Wow, I read the first chapter and can't wait to read the rest. In a time when I'm trying to pay down my debts it's amazing suddenly have a change of perspective regarding how I choose spend my money.

    Thanks for the thought provoking ideas.

  • Linda Hunter

    this book sounds interesting

  • Mary Ann Beatty

    What a small world! I just saw Eduardo Porter being interviewed on TV. His book sounded really interesting. What price people put on a human life, body parts, and all the way down to a loaf of bread. Everyone has their own idea of the value of everything. I would love to win a copy of his book! Please include me in the contest.

    Have a blessed and best 2011!!

  • Brenda

    The price of anything is relative to the purchaser. Life is precious not a commodity to be used, it must be spent well. God gives us choices, choose well!

  • Sounds like an interesting book. How things are priced beyond supply and demand.

  • Buck

    In America, if you follow the money-trail, you'll see that ALL and I mean ALL of America's problems can be traced right back to the International Banksters, who have no allegience to any country and the top dog there is Rothschild. Even the price of gold is set every day to what Rothschild wants it to be by his agents in the "City of London" !!! Wake up, you dumbed-down sheeple !!!

  • The Chinese strategic classics talks about looking at everything in terms of connections (cause and effect) and rate of change. This book sort of touches this topic. In summary, the book makes very good points.

  • Going to share this information at every staff meeting. This is a widely varied view from person to person, it reflects how we perceive our own self worth. This will be an excellent tool for my personal growth segment of my Staff meetings.

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