My grade (1 to 5): 4 – unsettling but insightful critique of pervasive market-based thinking in contemporary society full of different examples illustrating that, especially in the U.S., increasingly everything seems to be up for sale – and how we should think about this if we object to certain commercializing practices of things we consider too sacred or important to be treated in this way.
- In what “Justice” author Michael Sandel calls “market triumphalism“, we find ourselves in a world where increasingly many problems are being solved by the application of a price and buyers willing to pay it. Whether we pay for convenience, trying to motivate individuals to behave a certain way, gamble on the life or death of celebrities, or try to support public goods like schools and the police, Sandel invites us to reflect on whether the practice of putting up virtually anything (and anyone) up for sale is desirable from a moral perspective.
- Examples range from the seemingly harmless (e.g., paying to cut the line at airports, themeparks, congressional hearings, concerts, Shakespeare festivals, or naming rights on baseball stadiums) to the controversial (e.g., paying drug-addicted women to be sterilized, kids for good grades, for police cars to be rolling advertising bill boards, for the right to immigrate, for the right to pollute with carbon offsets, or for the right to kill endangered rhinos), to the outright macabre (e.g., companies secretly buying life insurance on employees to cash in upon their deaths, online sites to reward the right bet on the death of famous people).
- For each example, the author explains that all arguments boil down to two fundamental objections every time that we feel disturbed by instances where the market/economic approach seems to inappropriately encroach on civic life. The first is an effect on reducing equality in society. The second is about corruption or degradation of the good in question by the practice of putting it up for sale. Throughout each example, Sandel applies this framework and offers his opinion whether the market approach is defensible or not based on either criteria.