Monday, April 30, 2012

Money can buy just about anything you like according to Harvard’s Michael J. Sandel in his provocative new book, “What Money Can’t Buy, The Moral Limits of Markets.”

Did you know that convicts can pay cold hard cash for a prison cell upgrade? Or that some cities will let you drive solo in the car pool lane if you pay an extra fee during rush hour? Or that foreigners who want to immigrate to the US can do so for a cool $500,000 down and the creation of 10 jobs in high unemployment areas?

Money talks, some times in rational ways– and other times in exploitative ways. Cell phone access to your doctor can be purchased for as little as $1500 per year. Be a guinea pig in a big pharma experiment and earn $7500. Some $30 billion is being invested in buying insurance policies from ailing elderly patients and then  collecting the death benefit less the cost of paying the annual premiums.

Maybe, says Sandel, the market should not be the guiding measure of the moral life. ” We need to ask whether there are some things money should not buy,” the Harvard prof. , who teaches the immensely popular course on “ Justice”, writes.

We should hesitate to put everything up for sale, he suggests, explaining how it furthers income inequality amongst those who cannot afford all the little social benefits that make life easier.

I’ll be interested to see how the affluent  respond to this moralistic argument, not well I would suppose.. Sandel wants us to rethink markets because sometimes market value crowds out nonmarket values, because money is too dominant in our social and civic life.

I say its perfectly fine to preach on this level from  an Ivory Tower in Cambridge, Mass. Especially as we are still grappling with the recklessness that cause the bailout of Wall Street costing trillions...

How many of us have  the extra cash to pay a fee for fouling the atmosphere or participate in death pools or buy  the increasingly expensive box seating at professional sporting events? Especially in a world where wages and salaries are  flat and corporate profits are pushing the stock market ahead. Ordinary Americans can’t  afford all t he goodies for sale, while corporations can.

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