June 6, 2012

The title Rachel Maddow chose for her book on the influences of, and on, US military intervention could be equally well-applied to What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, by Michael J. Sandel.

Sandel makes a convincing argument that it’s time for  honest discussion about where we see the place of market forces, and what realms of life and society are best left off-limits: “These are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones. To resolve them, we have to debate, case by case, the moral meaning of these goods and the proper way of valuing them. This is a debate we didn’t have during the era of market triumphalism. As a result, without quite realizing it, without ever deciding to do so, we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.” (10)

And he offers relevant examples of that drift. In confusing the desire to pay with the ability to pay, a market society justifies tiered services, not only in the cultural realm (skyboxes at athletic events) but also in education, health care, and the rest. Where’s the line between legacy admission or making a large donation to a college and buying your way in? Or between buying citizenship or being given a permanent visa for investing $500K in a US business?

“The more things money can buy, the fewer the occasions when people from different walks of life encounter one another…Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life…For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.” (202-203)

It’s a thoughtful, important book.

A quiet moment…

June 3, 2012