Photo from theAtlantic.com
“…Many of us at the moment, are spending money we don’t have, on things we don’t want, in order to impress people we don’t like.”
Recently I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral to see Michael Sandel speak on his latest book: What Money Can’t Buy. The public debate held in the awe-inspiring venue addressed the role market mechanisms can play in our daily lives. Do they corrupt our social values and poison the sacred areas of our civic life? Well perhaps that question is posed with an inherent bias, but it does capture the sentiment. If you have an hour and a half to spare it is well worth your time watching the debate: here
If you are short on time (after all, time is money), here is a recap of some standout examples I have selected that really illustrate how far this market mayhem is all going:
1. Cell ‘upgrades’ in Santa Ana County Jail
Yes that is right, for just $82 bucks a night, if you happen to be a nonviolent offender in Santa Ana, California - you can pay for a clean, quiet jail cell. That means all the non-paying prisoners won’t disturb you while you get caught up on your beauty sleep.
Photo from Oddee.com
2. Gambling on Life Insurance Policies
What? Yes, you can bet on other people’s lives. Through investing in someone else’s life insurance policy, should they die, you stand to benefit financially. In Sandel’s own words, ” The Sooner they die, the better the payoff.”
This is such a fascinating moral dilemma that if you aren’t convinced simply watch this:
3. Pasty Tax
I must admit I was a bit clueless on this one. The ill-conceived move to add 20% to the cost of hot pies and pasties, is perhaps the least forceful example of this bunch - but worth including if only just to ridicule.
Photo from Telegraph.co.uk
It certainly ticks the box of a personal vendetta against pastys that I hold from a near death experience. Sparing the grotesque details, I can say it involved an uncooked beef pasty orgininating from Clapham Junction station masquerading itself as a healthy late-night veggie option. Whatever the case, the argument might go as follows: Should taxpayers money and thus a market mechanism surrounding the price of Pasty’s be a justified way to garnish more money for the government to spend on a well over budgeted Olympics? Or were they simply:
“Desperate to find yet another way to take more money from the taxpayer, the idea of raising more than £35 million from pasty eaters must have felt like taking candy from a baby.” – Falmouthpacket.co.uk
Where this leaves us really is exactly where Sandel wants to take us: to a space of public discourse and debate on these absurdities. For all of us, to take a firm stand for where and when it is wrong for markets to impede and infringe on our values – whoever we are, and whatever those may be.
Yes, values are subjective and will evolve over time, but today, in a totally jaded economic world – we can still express our views on where markets do serve the public good, and argue for where indeed they do belong.
Tags: Culture, Wellbeing