My latest computer is a MacBook Pro. I get made fun of from time to time. Many people feel very strongly about Mac computers. To borrow a joke from Mitch Hedberg: people either love Macs, or they hate them, or they think they’re OK. I can’t think of anything that more aptly illustrates the subjective nature of valuation then the Mac/PC rivalry.
I am going to deliberately avoid engaging in the Sisyphean task that is the debate over the superior computing machine, and by the end of this article, you’ll see why. But I will talk about one of the arguments made.
The most common complaint I hear about Macs is this: “but you can get a PC with the same processor and the same about of memory for less money.” This is typically offered as proof that the PC is the better value, and that Macs are Overpriced (with a capital O). While there is no denying that one can, indeed, pay less money for a PC with the same processor that, indeed, has more memory than a Mac, it is the Overpriced part with which I wish to contend. Nothing is Overpriced when someone else pays for it. There is something, there must be something, that changes the valuation for those who purchase a Mac. Otherwise, they simply wouldn’t buy one.
This is where the Mac/PC rivalry becomes highly illustrative of the shortsightedness of third party valuation. Those who declare Macs Overpriced because some of the same components can be purchased for less money, albeit in a different form, are using an insufficient theory of value. Macs are not Overpriced, and PCs are not a bargain; neither are Macs a bargain.  When one says that any one exchange is “Overpriced,” they are merely making a subjective statement about their willingness to enter into that same bargain. I find the right to attend PGA events overpriced at $0, you would literally have to pay to me attend a golf tournament, and yet some pay hundreds of dollars for rights to admission. We are both correct.
Mises laid this out clearly in Human Action. “The concept of ‘just’ or ‘fair’ price is devoid of any scientific meaning; it is a disguise for wishes, a striving for a state of affairs different from reality. Market prices are entirely determined by the value judgments of men as they really act” (329). Just a bit earlier, Mises wrote, “[t]he ultimate source of the determination of prices is the value judgments of the consumers. Prices are the outcome of the valuation preferring a to b.” (328, italics original). To call a transaction “Overpriced” is to say nothing about that transaction or the goods therein; it is nothing more than pompous moralizing. Elsewhere in Human Action, Mises demanded that “[t]he notions of abnormality and perversity therefore have no place in economics. It does not say that a man is perverse because he prefers the disagreeable, the detrimental, and the painful to the agreeable, the beneficial, and the pleasant. It says only that he is different from other people … ” (95). There is nothing scientific, nothing economic, about making normative claims about the proper value of one good or another. These are just moral judgments and individual preferences masquerading as Divine Truth. Whereas one might proclaim in condescending shock, “$1200 for a MacBook! What a waste!,” another might equally state, “$5 for used shoes at a thrift store! Why, I cover my feet with paper sacks I dig out of a dumpster, and they work just fine!” Neither statement is more sensible. To that end, I recently tweeted: “PC Guy: Macs are overpriced, you can get i5 for $500. PC Guy: steaks are overpriced, you can get 500 calories by eating oatmeal.”
Let’s return to the Mac/PC rivalry. Compare the following statements:
Statement 1: “It’s foolish to pay $X for a Mac, when you can get the same processor and memory in a PC for $X — $Y.”
Statement 2: “It’s foolish to buy a downtown condo for $X when you can get the same square footage in the suburbs for $X -$Y.”
Statement 3: “It’s foolish to buy a set of Snap-On wrenches for $X when you get the same quantity of wrenches from a department store for $X – $Y.”
None of these statements say anything about computers, real estate, or tools. They only express a subjective valuation of the differences between certain types and classes of goods. Some people pay more for Macs relative to certain features of PCs because, ex ante, they believe that certain elements of Mac ownership other than processor and memory are worth the additional money spent. Some people pay more for a condo in a high-rise building than a house in the suburbs because they value something other than square footage enough to pay the additional cost for it. Some people buy Snap-On wrenches for the same reasons. They value something in those wrenches, before the exchange, more than in the other wrenches that is worth the additional cost.
As Mises said in Human Action: “[w]henever a buyer, in choosing between two things which chemists and technologists deem perfectly equal, prefers the more expensive, he has a reason. If he does not err, he pays for services which chemistry and technology cannot comprehend with their specific methods of investigation”(243).
Exactly what the element is that makes the exchange worth more in monetary value doesn’t matter. There must be some element to the exchange that persuades the actor to act. Perhaps people value the Mac interface. Perhaps the glowing icon on the exterior mesmerizes them. Perhaps they wanted to look like they had money to flush down the toilet. It doesn’t matter. In an ex ante valuation, they found something worth the additional cost of a Mac. Saying that certain aspects of Mac ownership do not justify the additional cost myopically focuses on only certain aspects of ownership and ignores the additional, subjective benefits that must be present by definition. It is the same with other exchanges. Perhaps people buy high-rise condos because they’re close to work, or require little maintenance. Perhaps people buy Snap-On wrenches because their work requires tools that have proven durable over time. Perhaps they make great drumsticks. It doesn’t matter. Nothing can be Overpriced if an exchange actually occurred. To call an exchange that someone else made Overpriced is to ignore the subjective nature of value in a most obnoxious way.
Is a Mac a Better Value than a PC, or is a PC a Better Value than a Mac? The Austrian economist knows that nobody can answer this for anybody else. Therefore, call me an idiot if you please, just don’t call my things overpriced.
 I am assuming that there is no coercion in the market for Macs and PCs. I will call something overpriced only when additional costs are thrust onto a consumer by the use of force. One can still contend that subjective theory of value holds, and that it was still a beneficial exchange with the coercive costs added, otherwise the actor would not have engaged in the exchange and would have used his resources to satisfy a different desire sooner. But I think that legitimizes the coercion to an extent and ignores that private actors would might have satisfied that desire in exchange for fewer resources.