Mark Rothko was a famous American painter. In 2007, one of his paintings, painted by him in 1950, was sold at Sotheby’s auction house for a record $73 million dollars. Previous sales of his paintings were in the millions as well. His paintings hang in museums all over the world. People placed a value in the millions on some canvas and paint in a frame. The total value of the materials was very likely a small sum, so why would the painting be worth millions in the real world of hard finance? These paintings were unique because the painter created each one individually so no one painting was like another. The quality of the work and the skill of the artist who created it determined the value of the paintings.
In March of 1990, a small painting by Mark Rothko was being transported in a special art moving van to an auction site. Also in the van was wood sculpture and assorted antique furniture. As the van was going down the Los Angeles freeway to the auction house, motorist saw smoke coming out of the rear of the thirty foot truck and signaled the driver to pull over. A fire had somehow started inside the van and the contents, including the multi million dollar Rothko painting was destroyed.
The trucking company was responsible for loss. The owners of the valuable art were owed the full value of their loss. They would not tolerate the carrier arguing that you can’t put a value on a work of art or that no amount of money would replace it or that they should only pay half of the loss or pay it in installments over time. The carrier who caused the loss was responsible for full accountability. It had to pay the millions it owed for the damaged oil painting and the other objects of art.
Human beings are no less unique and, in fact, far more unique as well as more valuable then a painting on canvas, so why is there so much argument about paying what’s owed when a human being is damaged or destroyed? We have any number of examples from the hard, material world where values are placed on what would otherwise be considered an intangible value. It is only when it comes to people that there arguments about not paying what is owed.