We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Harvard's Michael Sandel is a rock star political/moral philosopher. I've never read him. All I know about him is from this review of his new book, What Money Can't Buy, in The Guardian.
So just a brief thought about the article, not the book. It seems to me as if Sandel has created a straw man of money - or maybe of markets, and wishes people would consider more elevated, more moral views of life.
But don't markets simply reflect what people want, and the decisions and choices people make? Many people seem to want to buy his ideas, which is why his book is making him big bucks in the marketplace of the bookstores.
Sandel makes the illuminating observation that what he calls the "market triumphalism" in western politics over the past 30 years has coincided with a "moral vacancy" at the heart of public discourse, which has been reduced in the media to meaningless shouting matches on cable TV – what might be called the Foxification of debate – and among elected politicians to disagreements so technocratic and timid that citizens despair of politics ever addressing the questions that matter most.
"There is an internal connection between the two, and the internal connection has to do with this flight from judgment in public discourse, or the aspiration to value neutrality in public discourse. And it's connected to the way economics has cast itself as a value-neutral science when, in fact, it should probably be seen – as it once was – as a branch of moral and political philosophy."
"Illuminating observation"? That's new?
It may be true that profs of Economics have attempted to make their area of study as value-neutral as physics, but economics as practiced by the individual person in a free society is as far from value-neutral as can be. After all, there are "markets" in values and morals too and everybody seeks different versions of these products.
Free markets in everything, from ideas, to religion, to dating, to education, to health, to business. That's America to me. Just don't expect me to approve of your choices.
Help me out, gentle readers. What contradictions can you see in Sandel, as seen through the article?
People trade money for other things. They work at less-remunerative jobs because of the hours, or the region, or the coworkers, or the interest. Markets operate whether we recognise them and acknowledge them or not. Everything that Sandel wishes to de-marketise is actually only something he wishes to transfer to another market. And if you push really hard on those ideas, they become the idea that his values should be more highly rewarded by society than yours. His POV is ultimately not elevated, but sordid.
He trades on our emotional recoil to the idea that some people overvalue money or material gain or icky purchases like jetskis and gaudy jewelry at the expense of what many of us think are more Truly Valuable, such as Faith, or Art, or Learning, or Buying Michael Sandel's Books. Yet we are all free to trade as much of our goods as we like for such things, and in America most of us do. A lot. Maggie's readers could all find some other activity that would bring in few shekels in these stray moments, but we choose to spend the time here because we like it.
Assistant VIllage Idiot
If Sandel wants to wring his hands over the monetization and commercialization of so many aspects of society today then he has no better place to start his introspection than the institution of "higher learning" that pays his big, fat, superstar salary. Is there another university that has done so well at marketing the credentials of higher education to gullible youngsters than Harvard? Nay, is there a school in the entire UNIVERSE that has made more money selling its reputation and access to the powerful and influential than Harvard? Not even Yale can boast---what is it now?---a $40 BILLION endowment while, with not the least hesitation or embarrassment, asking its current students to personally beg the school's former students for even bigger donations. Money is what drives Harvard. Everything at Harvard is about money.
My take on this is that there's nothing wrong with the market economy we have. The problem is that too many people, possibly even Sandel himself, have worked very hard over the years to eliminate institutions like religion that used to temper man's behavior and instill a bit of morality and ethics and decency and humanity into our lives. Let's not be judgmental....unless you want to disparage those bitter clingers who hold onto their guns and their bibles. You can mock them. That's okay, at least so I've heard.
If Sandel would take some advice, which I doubt, I suggest he take a pleasant walk one day over to the Harvard Divinity School and have a nice conversation with his fellow faculty member, emeritus professor Richard Reinhold Niebuhr. Maybe Sandel could learn a thing or two about theology and ethics from Niebuhr. Kinda doubt it, though. Some people you can't teach a thing 'cause they already know the answer they want.
Don't let the left trick you into defending capitalism when it's just a red herring. Capitalism in my country (UK) disappeared years ago, as the whole political spectrum moved ever leftwards, to be replaced by a mixture of state socialism and authoritarian corporatism ( fascism). As Thomas Sowell has pointed out, the overwhelming problem for leftists is that leftism simply does not work, so a scapegoat must be found for that failure. The simple way to deal with this kind of idiocy is point out that free markets cannot be to blame as free markets no longer exist.
It's hard to comment on a book unless one has read it -- but:
If Sandel is bemoaning the fact that these days everything has a price, he may be wrong. My reading of history tells me that things are pretty much as they always were, but in one area there has been the recognition that price is not how to measure the significance or importance of something: slavery. We don't have it any more, though others -- who are mired in authoritarian, unevolved moral codes -- do.
I note as well that the word "value" is ambiguous. I value honesty, and I consider its purchase an oxymoron.
A free market is a place where there are more choices, less coercion, and greater Liberty. Free markets have a value that cannot be reckoned in terms of prices.
So what is he saying? That things are worse today? Every generation says that. And the people who say it most cleverly make a lot of money for saying it. Hmpf.
meaningless shouting matches on cable TV – what might be called the Foxification of debate
Oh poor old Fox. It Foxified our politicians!! They be Fox'd!! Oh dang!! Our philosopher kings, transformed into venal sputtering knaves!!
Or maybe, given there are more such shows these days than there were back in the days of the three network monopoly, we just get more exposure to how awful politicians are. A sterling public service!!
Anyway. Echoing Assistant V.I. above, when it comes to "addressing the questions that matter most" I'm sure the author's ready to tell us what those things are.
And, he has trouble with economics because it aspires to be a "value-neutral science"? Seems to me economists most often go off the rails - make unwise recommendations, unsound predictions, faulty analyses - when they inject their values, especially their political values, into economics. See, Paul Krugman, et al. See also The God of the Copybook Headings.
The numbers - "the market" - doesn't care about your specific values, per se, and you can't make it. Social custom is constrained by economics - if your values can't survive the market, they aren't viable. It's the difference between imagining Utopia and making it real.