Shifting from a market economy to a market society
Harvard professor Michael Sandel
The Harvard professor assesses whether morality is in play in U.S. markets
and discusses his best-selling book, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits
Called one of the world's most interesting political philosophers, Michael
Sandel is a professor of government at Harvard University, where he's taught
political philosophy since 1980. His hugely popular undergraduate course,
"Justice," has enrolled over 15,000 students and is the first Harvard course
to be made freely available online and on public TV. He's also a
best-selling author, who, in his latest book, What Money Can't Buy, explores
the moral dilemmas of a capitalistic society and the choices people face
daily. A Rhodes Scholar, Sandel received his doctorate from Oxford.
Extracts from transcript:
Sandel: We've shifted from having a market economy to becoming a market
society. A market economy is a tool, and a valuable tool, but a market
society is a place where everything is up for sale. It's a place where
market values invade every sphere of life, from personal relations to
education to health to civic life to military service, for-profit prisons,
another example, and this has been happening - it's gathered force and
momentum over the past three decades.
Tavis: What's the danger for you and for us, more expressly, of this new way
Sandel: Yeah, right. I think the danger is that when markets reach into
places where they don't belong, they crowd out other values. One of the most
important places where this happens is that markets crowd out civic spaces
and a sense of shared citizenship.
Let me give you a very concrete example. I'm a baseball fan. When I was a
kid growing up, I lived in Minnesota, followed the Minnesota Twins. In those
days, there were box seats and there were box seats and there were bleacher
seats that were cheaper.
The difference in price between the most expensive box seat and the cheapest
seat in the bleachers, what would you guess?
Sandel: Two dollars and 50 cents.
Tavis: (Laughs) I was close, there was a two and a five there.
Sandel: Well, it's changed. It's because it's changed so dramatically.
Three-fifty for the best box seat, a dollar to sit in the bleachers. The
effect was going to a ballgame was a class-mixing experience. CEOs and
mailroom clerks sat side-by-side. Everyone waited in the same long line to
go to the restroom and when it rained, everyone got wet.
Now and over the last few decades, almost all the stadiums have skyboxes,
which separate the privileged fans from the masses in the seats below. So
going to a baseball game is no longer the same kind of democratic, civic
experience, class-mixing experience that it once was, and this is
happening - this is my worry - throughout our society, with rising
inequality and where money buys more and more.
We've experienced the skyboxification of American life. We live and work and
shop and play in different places, rich and poor, I mean. We send our
children to different schools.
This is what I mean by skyboxification of life. That makes it very difficult
to think of ourselves as sharing a common life, and that makes it difficult
to think of ourselves as democratic citizens engaged in common purposes in
common projects. That's my biggest worry.
Tavis: I've just come off a three-week tour talking about the issue of
poverty in this country, and I was anxious to get to this conversation with
you, given what your text is about, in part because if you are right, and I
believe that you are, that - this is my way of saying it, not your way,
necessarily - that everything and everybody is up for sale.