Thursday, December 01, 2016

What money cannot buy – Moral Limits of Markets Michael J. Sandel

          This book raises fundamental questions about nature and effects of marketisation in this age.  Almost everything in this world is being marketed.  In the last 25 years each and every object and activity has been monetised and marketed as a commodity.  Whether everything can be traded or sold has not remained a question anymore. World has already seen it happening.  This book is based on research and therefore empirical. 

                Line standing is a business in the US.  Standing in a line for someone else for a payment or fee has become for the norm even for entering such institutions as Supreme Court or Congressional hearing.   Even if an event is free and people can obtain it by standing in queue, there are people who on hire stand in the queue and obtain the entry tickets for others for a fee upto 125 dollors. This is for an event like shakeshere’s play.  There are websites offering their services for standing in queue.

                Body parts are for sale.  Kidneys are sold like cakes.  Even services of Doctors can be obtained by paying for his services without waiting time.  He would come and attend you on call his services are paid in advance on yearly basis.  There are speech writing companies who write heart rending three to five minute speeches for a fee and there are others who seek apologies on your behalf. 
                You can skip the queue at the airport for security or entry by paying extra amount.  Exclusive spaces are reserved for you if extra payments are made, for watching baseball matches.  Even naming rights of teams, stadia, Railway Stations are marketed.  Now commentators are told to tell the name of the brand or company while commenting on the performances.   A New Zealand company marketed spaces on the heads of individuals for advertising products/brands. University admissions are marketed for a price. 

                The author points out that the spaces meant for public have been marketed for those with money.   This deprieves the citizens their right to use the resources of the community.  The question is What kind of society we want to live in.  At the time of rising inequality, marketisation of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives.  We like and work and shop and play in different places.  It is not good for democoracy nor is it a satisfying way to live.

                Democracy does not require perfect equality but it does require that citizens share common life.  What matters is that people of different beckgrounds and social positions encounter one another and bump against one another in the course of every day life.  For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide by our differences and that is how we come to care for the common good.

                In the end, as the author says, the question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together.  Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy?

                An interesting take on the current madness for making everything saleable.

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