I shall refute it via the medium of interpretive dance.
I’m sure such dancers put a lot of effort into their dancing. Doesn’t mean it is of value to me because I wouldn’t cross the street to watch it.
Or possibly a refutation by carpet. In the Museum of Turkish and Islamic art in Istanbul there is a particular C17th Persian carpet. It is very beautiful and obviously had a lot of work put into it. I have no idea what it’s market value is but it would be worthless to me. It’s about 10×3 metres and I don’t have a room that size.
Which brings on the refutation by sock. Surely a sock is worth less than that carpet? I have seen the world’s largest sock factory on the telly and that is in China (it would be wouldn’t it) and they churn them out at a staggering rate. Obviously a higher rate than them old Persians crafted their carpets. But if you recall the movie Apollo 13 one of items need to fix the scrubbers on the spacecraft was a sock. Sometimes a sock is worth more than any carpet.
Or how about the refutation by late C19th comic novels? Harris or George (I forget which) in “Three men in a boat” gets a right strop on when the three of them picnic by the Thames and he unpacks the cold roast beef only to discover there is no mustard. He then says he would, “Give worlds for mustard”. Admittedly George (or Harris) apparently frequently said he’d give worlds for mundane items. Once on a walking holiday in Switzerland he’d said that about a bottle of beer after having developed a powerful thirst during an Alpine hike and then complained bitterly when charged sixpence for a bottle of Bass.
Or SF stories. Spoiler alert! Paycheck by Phil Dick is perhaps the best story I know about what you might call the “circumstantial theory of value”. Sorry I can’t say more here without giving the plot away too much and it’s a great little story.
So I will call on Commander Bond instead. Picture the scene. Bond has made love to beautiful women, fought baddies, wrecked the car (Q will not be pleased) and swapped wise-cracks with an evil genius. It is now the end of the movie and he alone can defuse the nuclear bomb planted in Trafalgar Square. You know the one encased in perspex with a seven-segment display countdown which is exactly how real nuclear bombs don’t look but whatever!
Now you know the routine. Bond clips the final wire just as the countdown gets to 007, cue the Bond theme, one more wisecrack, one more mild sex scene with Dame Judith looking on via the sat-link with that curious mix of motherly love and disapproval and roll credits.
But perhaps not. What if James Bond had had one too many dry Martinis (shaken, not stirred) the evening before and left his Leatherman on the bedside cabinet of a beautiful Russian spy (of course the Bond franchise not being averse to a hint of product placement we can imagine the lingering shot of it next to the model-turned actress almost showing her breasts). All for the want of a nail and all that! That tool is now the most valuable item on the planet even though it is something that can be bought for a few tens of pounds. But the ever resourceful Commander Bond mugs a Japanese tourist for his tool and this takes six seconds so the countdown stops at 001 and everyone breathes a sigh of relief (not least me because that 007 thing is a bit overdone). The Japanese tourist is handsomely recompensed, has tea with the Queen and the tool is exhibited in pride of place in, say, the British Museum. Even more Japanese tourists from this day on will flock to be photographed next to that because if the bomb had gone off all of the priceless stuff in that wonderful museum would have been scattered to ashes. A humble multi-tool had therefore earned it’s place. Because for one brief, critical, moment it had been in a very real sense more valuable than everything else in that museum.
So I refute this theory with a Persian carpet, a space mission, a Victorian novel, a SF short story and an action hero. Is that too schlocky for you? If so then how about the Bard himself? What was Richard III prepared to give a kingdom for again?