In recent years Economics has begun to rebrand itself as the science of human behaviour (for example in Superfreakonomics or Nudge. It believes it is possible to assign a monetary value to many human transactions. It sees the marketplace as the most efficient mechanism for adding value to human exchanges. Sandel believes that over these years we have moved from having a market economy to being a market society; a society in which more and more things are monetised.
He makes a compelling case. In Israel there was a daycare centre where the teachers became annoyed at the parents who came late to pick up their children. So they decided to fine the annoying parents. The number of late pickups increased as parents saw the fine as a fee they could pay for the centre keeping the kids for longer. They no longer worried about wasting the teachers' time. Sandel argues that this shows how assigning a price to something crowds out morality.
He also considers Christmas. Economists hate gifts. If I spend money buying you something you hate then I have wasted my money. It would be better if I just gave you the money I have spent (or even gave you less). So gifts 'destroy value' in economic terms. Nevertheless, Sandel argues that giving gifts is somehow better than giving money.
It is a very compelling argument. He looks at the things money should and should not be allowed to buy. Most people would argue that you should not be allowed to buy a favourable verdict in a trial or votes in an election. But faster treatment in hospitals is probably OK. We routinely bet on our own deaths when we take out life insurance but in the US many companies take out life insurance on their employees even without the knowledge of the employees. Is that right? What about people who buy up the life insurance policies of people with terminal illnesses, thereby providing the dying people with cash in their last few months whilst at the same time making a great profit (if they die earlier than expected)> Where is the morality in that?
This is a wonderful book full of insights and arguments into some very tricky ethical issues.
May 2014; 203 pages
- I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57