When the nail sticks out

rants, raves and randomness

What money can’t buy by Michael J. Sandel

 The book rightfully starts with an assertion and a set of examples to prove this point:

There are some thing money can’t buy, but these days not many. Today, almost everything is up for sale. Here are a few examples.

A prison cell upgrade:$82 per night. In Santa Ana, California, and some other cities, non-violent offenders cay pay for better accommodations -a clean, quiet jail cell, away from cells for nonpaying prisoners.

Access to the car pool lane while driving solo : $8 during rush hour. Minneapolis and other cities are trying to ease traffic congestion by letting solo drivers pay to drive in car pool lanes, at rates that vary according to traffic.

The service of an Indian surrogate mother to carry pregnancy: $6,250. Western couples seeking surrogates increasingly outsource the job to India, where the practice is legal and the price is less than one-third the going rate in the United States.

The right to immigrate to the United States : $500,000. Foreigners who invest $500,000 and create at least ten jobs in an area of high unemployment are eligible for green card that entitles them to permanent residency.

The right to shoot an endangered black rhino:$150,000. South Africa has begun letting ranchers sell hunters the right to kill a limited number of rhinos, to give the ranchers an incentive to raise and protect the endangered species.

The cellphone number of your doctor : $1,500 and up per year. A growing number of “concierge” doctors offer cell phone access and same-day appointments for patients willing to pay annual fees ranging from $1,500 to $25,000.

The right to emit a metric ton of carbon in the atmosphere: 13 euros (about $18). The European Union runs a carbon emissions market that enables companies to buy and sell the right to pollute.

Admission of your child to a prestigious university:? Although the price is not posted, officials from some top universities told The Wall Street Journal that they accept some less than stellar students whose parents are wealthy and likely to make a substantial financial contributions

Sandel, Michael J. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012. 3-4. Print.

There are tons of examples if you look around you. Things now for sale that traditionally weren’t. Things that maybe should have remained not for sale.  Things that some people deem, should never have been in the market to begin with, whether as product or as job. Just go to Craigslist and you’ll see posts looking for drug test subjects (JPY300,00 or 3,000 USD)  or Fukushima toxic waste workers at 100USD per hour. Some offer friends. Back home, cash strapped students peddled their services, from doing your homework to writing your thesis. Poor people turned to selling their kidneys illegally. We’ve seen some instances of online auction of virginity. Almost everything now can be bought for a price. Michael Sandel wrote :

 We live at a time when almost everything can be bought and sold. Over the past three decades, market- and market values- have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us.

Sandel, Michael J. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012. 5. Print.

What is a free market?

We know better than to take it literally- the market society we have today didn’t just “came upon us.” Thinkers and proponents of free markets from years past had laid down the solid foundations of the markets we see today.

In a free economy, where no man or group of men can use physical coercion against anyone, economic power can be achieved only by voluntary means: by the voluntary choice and agreement of all those who participate in the process of production and trade. In a free market, all prices, wages, and profits are determined—not by the arbitrary whim of the rich or of the poor, not by anyone’s “greed” or by anyone’s need—but by the law of supply and demand. The mechanism of a free market reflects and sums up all the economic choices and decisions made by all the participants. Men trade their goods or services by mutual consent to mutual advantage, according to their own independent, uncoerced judgment. A man can grow rich only if he is able to offer better values—better products or services, at a lower price—than others are able to offer.

Wealth, in a free market, is achieved by a free, general, “democratic” vote—by the sales and the purchases of every individual who takes part in the economic life of the country. Whenever you buy one product rather than another, you are voting for the success of some manufacturer. And, in this type of voting, every man votes only on those matters which he is qualified to judge: on his own preferences, interests, and needs. No one has the power to decide for others or to substitute hisjudgment for theirs; no one has the power to appoint himself “the voice of the public” and to leave the public voiceless and disfranchised.

Free Market. Ayn Rand Lexicon. Web. November 29, 2013. < http:// aynrandlexicon.com/ lexicon/ free_market.html >

Milton Friedman also advocated free market, with minimal government intervention.

Friedman’s writings, especially his 1980 book “Free to Choose,” authored with his wife Rose, refuted popular claims that “more government” would improve the quality of our lives.  Milton Friedman was the most ardent spokesperson advocating the complete opposite. Voluntary choices of individuals rather than arbitrary dictates of the state, he argued, should be the default mode of human life. Government is justified only insofar as it preserves, protects and defends individual liberty

Enlow, Robert. Fox news.A century of freedom and free markets: Celebrating Milton Friedman. July 31, 2012. Web. November 29, 2012.<  www. fox news.com/ opinion/2012/07/31/ century -freedom -and-free-markets -celebrating -milton – friedman/ >

Sandel wrote :

The years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 were a heady time of market faith and deregulation – an era of market triumphalism. The era began in the earl 1980s, when Ronal Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclamed their conviction that markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom. And it continued in the 1990s, with the market-friendly liberalism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who moderated but consolidated the faith that markets are the primary means for achieving public good.

Sandel, Michael J. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012. 6. Print.

But is that really the case? Does unfettered market help us achieve a common good? Sandel disagrees.

Today, that faith is in doubt. The era of market triumphalism has come to an end. The financial crisis did more than cast doubt on the ability of markets to allocate risk efficiently. It also prompted a wide-spread sense that markets have become detached from morals and that we need  somehow to reconnect them, But it’s not obvious what this would mean, or how we should go about it.

Sandel, Michael J. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012. 6. Print.

When Musicians Sell-out

Back home, I liked listening to local bands that, in my opinion, created real music. These bands are not so mainstream, some being totally underground and unheard of in radios. I supported them and bought their self-produced CDs. I loved them even more for being untainted by money. Understandably, I  felt a sense of betrayal when these  bands suddenly signed deals with large recording companies. And I lamented when they started doing ads: when Imago did Taralets, for instance. How dare they sell-out?! Indeed, to sell out is the most common accusation I hear people throw at artists and musicians. Paid to make music is not the same as to make music freely – it’s the corruption of one’s music, debasing of one’s art. I was equally dismayed when I felt the inevitable consequences of this market transaction : my favorite recently-famous bands now  could not (or would not) perform for free in the Sunken Garden as they used to.  Didn’t you say music was for everyone? What happened? And excuse me, but didn’t we help create what you are now? Why are you selling what we made? On the other hand, one can’t help say that people are doing what they do to survive. Would these bands still be there without the record labels? And who knows –  maybe that was the goal from the beginning, to make a living out of what they like doing best?  If filmmakers can charge movie goers and still claim their untarnished status as artists, why can’t musicians the same?

Some would argue that the commercialization of certain bands allow them to reach a wider audience. If I truly loved their music, then, surely I’d be supportive of their going mainstream and having a bigger fan base to ensure their longevity. But my problem is that signing up with large recording labels may mean compromising their music in favor of what is popular or what makes money. The motivation behind their music becomes questionable and their music, in turn becomes tainted. What drew me to them – this  love of their unadulterated music – is now irreversibly gone.

And in a sense, I was right. I talked to a friend who was a member of a  relatively famous band in the Philippines, and he claimed that they don’t have any say in what songs to play during TV performances. The sponsor decides. They also don’t have  power to refuse mall tours – the label, that invested in them, pretty much owns them.

I am not claiming that all commercial music= evil. To be honest, I am thankful to these profit-motivated music labels for bringing music from around the world to the far flung corners of the Philippines. Nevertheless, I feel as though I had to draw the line somewhere between music that that I won’t listen to, those that I listen to without paying for it, and those that I support financially. These Western commercial musicians are delivered to me much like my pizza is: piping hot, packaged and ready for consumption. Or my can of Pringles: manufactured, mass produced,  yes even labeled properly before being sold. It is the reason that I don’t mind listening to Britney Spears or other commercial artists. What you see is what you get. When there is demand, there is supply, regardless of talent. And when there is no demand, then maybe create one? Hence the surgically-enhanced Korean girl groups who can’t sing to save their lives doing concerts (eg lip-sync), or AKB48 who  (indirectly) charge their fans for a handshake. On the bad side, I am bombarded by ads of things that I don’t want and will never need. On the good side, as this is the dynamics of free market, I can freely choose what I want to consume. No one can send me to any judicial courts for banning music by Avril Lavigne in my house. I am, after all, very much entitled to be offended by an artist that started as a rebellious punk rock who now sing songs like “Girlfriend”. 

She released her first album, Let Go, when she was only seventeen. She gave girls the idea that’s it’s okay not to wear dresses and skirts all the time, and to rebel a little bit every now and then. Her lyrics were deep and had true meaning to them.

But her new single, ‘What The Hell,’ has really made me consider what I think of her. The deepest meaning I can think of to this song is that ‘it’s okay to be crazy sometimes!’ The music video for it is an utter disaster. She just does what ever she wants (such as crashing and stealing a taxi) with no repercussions what-so-ever. And in the very beginning, there is an obvious product placement of a Sony laptop. Yes, it is a fun song to dance and sing to, but what happened to the old Avril, who used to sing about deep feelings? The one who didn’t sell out? She claims that the whole album Goodbye Lullaby will have a lot of acoustic songs and deeper meaning, but we won’t know for sure until it gets released.

I have one question for her: What the happened to you, Avril?

Stained Glass Eyes. Mibba.Avril Lavigne : What Happened. 2011. Web. November 29, 2013 < www. mibba.com/ Reviews/ Artist/ 4064/ Avril-Lavigne- What -Happened/ >

True, you have the liberty to claim that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that I’m riding a moral high horse by being persecuting musicians who “sold out” when almost everybody out there is doing the same thing anyway, and that Avril Lavigne is just another case of evolution in the name of market survival. What I am claiming here is very much a subject of debate – because in the end, it all boils down to opinions and not facts , preferences, tastes, and yes,  matters of moral judgement. Let’s just put it this way: there are some things that I just wouldn’t buy or sell-some because they are too valuable, some because they violate my values, and some because they are not worth my hard-earned yen. Mine is a personal choice, free market in operation, and I don’t have to justify my preferences to anyone – just as the person next to me on the train is entitled to his own choices as a consumer. Whether we consume or sell something is a matter of  taste, ethics and legalities, all rolled together. Yes, the law does matter, but it’s hard to lay down a law that will be an all-in-one solution to all the moral questions we are facing today in the market. To prove my point, laws vary around the world.  Why is it that all sorts of pornography are legal in Japan but regulated in the UK? Why is it that jueteng is illegal in the Philippines but other forms of gambling like horse racing and cockfighting are OK? Why is it that casinos are illegal in Japan but legal in the USA, Korea and  Macau? Why is prostitution legal in Amsterdam, Argentina and Costa Rica but illegal in Romania and in many parts of the US? Why are political donations frowned upon and even illegal in many countries?

These are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones. To resolve them, we have to debate, case by case, the moral meaning of these goods and the proper way of valuing them.

Sandel, Michael J. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012. 10. Print.

More Examples

What was once a market economy is now a market society, Sandel claims.With the market slowly invading our personal and social lives, we just cannot go on treating everything as we would a regular economic transaction. As with the underground music I supported, there are just some things that should not be bought or sold. Chapter per chapter, Sandel wrote about certain worrying examples that are now being sold. One of them is Linestanding.com. Linestanding describe themselves as (from their website):

We provide persons to stand in line anywhere in the greater Washington DC area, and specialize in United States Congressional hearings and their respective committees as well as the US Supreme Court.

Some other examples worth mentioning :

Concierge medicine : Concierge medicine (also known as direct care) is a relationship between a patient and a primary care physician in which the patient pays an annual fee or retainer. This may or may not be in addition to other charges. In exchange for the retainer, doctors provide enhanced care.Other terms in use include boutique medicine, retainer-based medicine, and innovative medical practice design.

Papal Mass for sale : When Pope Benedict XVI visited New York and Washington DC, free tickets were given away. When this ran out, some tickets were sold online.

Cash for sterilization : Established in 1997, Project Prevention has so far worked with 3,371 addicts in the U.S. Of those, 1,253 have opted for a tubal ligation or vasectomy. After getting in touch with the organization by calling its toll-free hotline (888-30-CRACK), prospective participants must mail in arrest records or official letters from social workers to confirm that they have a drug problem. Those opting for an IUD or surgical implant receive $100 when the device is inserted and $100 more six months and a year later if the device is still in use.

Paying kids for good grades : At the Burroughs Education Center in Washington DC, students get paid on the basis of metrics like attendance, behavior, tests and class work.

Paying people to be healthy :Offering people financial incentives to adopt healthy behaviour is a controversial area of public policy. The Biggest Loser, anyone?

Subway cheats : For about $8.50 a month, those who join one of these raffish-sounding mutuelles des fraudeurs can rest easy knowing that, if they get busted for refusing to be so bourgeois as to pay to use public transit, the fund will cough up the money for the fine.

Viaticals : A viatical settlement  is the sale of a policy owner’s existing life insurance policy to a third party for more than its cash surrender value, but less than its net death benefit.Such a sale provides the policy owner with an lump sum.The third party becomes the new owner of the policy, pays the monthly premiums, and receives the full benefit of the policy when the insured dies.

STOLI: Stranger-originated life insurance (“STOLI”) generally means any act, practice, or arrangement, at or prior to policy issuance, to initiate or facilitate the issuance of a life insurance policy for the intended benefit of a person who, at the time of policy origination, does not have an insurable interest in the life of the insured under the laws of the applicable state.

Autographs for sale : Signed sports memorabilia

Naming rights: In the private sector, naming rights are a financial transaction and form of advertising whereby a corporation or other entity purchases the right to name a facility or event, typically for a defined period of time.

Skyboxes: premium seats for the affluent

Municipal marketing :Police cars and Fire trucks with corporate logo; Advertising in schools and sponsored textbooks.

Hunting permits : South African black rhino hunting permits and lion hunting permits; Inuit’s walrus hunting license for sale .

The Freedom to sell and Social Utility

 Some argue that having things for sale is merely a promotion of mutual good – that, as long as no laws were violated, in striking a deal, both the buyer and seller are better off as a result. 

The case for markets over queues draws on two arguments. One is about respecting individual freedom; the other is about maximizing welfare or social utility. The first is a libertarian argument. It maintains that people should be free to buy and sell whatever they please, as long they don’t violate anyone’s rights. Libertarians oppose laws against tickets scalping for the same reason they oppose laws against prostitution, or the sale of human organs : they believe such laws violate individual liberty, by interfering with choices made by consenting adults.

The second argument for markets, more familiar among economists, is  utilitarian. It says that market exchanges benefit buyers and sellers alike, thereby improving our collective well-being, or social utility. The fact that my line stander and I strike a deal proves that we are both better off as result.

This is what economists mean when they say that free markets allocate goods efficiently. By allowing people to make mutually advantageous trades, markets allocate goods to those who value them most highly, as measured by their willingness to pay.

Sandel, Michael J. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012. 29-30. Print.

Why should we worry?

Isn’t it all for the better good? Don’t free markets ensure that people are better off after the economic transactions? Let’s talk about line-standing first:

In 2007, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) pursued legislation that would have barred paid line-standing at Congressional hearings. “I find it troubling that everyone in this room is getting paid by someone,” she said at a hearing that year where, according to the Wall Street Journal, “some line-standers had been parked outside the doors since 3 a.m., waiting for seats at a hearing on consumer issues in the wireless industry.”

Kliff, Sarah. The Washington Post. Supreme Court and the business of waiting in line. March 25, 2012. Web. November 29, 2012. <  www. washingtonpost.com/blogs/ wonkblog/ post/the- business-of -waiting -in-line/ 2012/ 03/ 25/ gIQAhFJkZS_blog.html >

This is deemed wrong by some because it discriminates against those who don’t have money to pay for line-standers. Defenders, however, claim that queuing discriminates in favor of people who have the most free time. It evens out the field between those who have a lot  of free time vs those who are willing to pay while at the same time providing jobs to homeless folks.   And many economists agree. This is the free market in operation, with maximum utility to those involved. You get what you pay for.

Argument # 1: Market choices reflect underlying inequality

First, it’s about inequality. When, say, “line-jumping” is allowed at a cost, the moneyed clients are at an advantage. Another of Sandel’s examples is the queue in the airports, where first-class and business class passengers can use priority lanes ( called “fast track”) that take them to the front of the queue. Amusement parks have also their own version of fast track that saves wealthy clients a lot of ordeal. This is good news if you have  money and bad news if you don’t. But it sounds unfair because it discriminates against those who don’t have a lot of money. Shouldn’t all people wait for their turn equally, regardless of their capacity or lack of capacity to pay?

I don’t understand bus lanes. Why do poor people have to get to places quicker than I do? –  Jeremy Clarkson, Top Gear

And this goes for concierge medicine – when the middle and lower class people are left out because of their (in)capacity to pay.

As more primary care providers join concierge practices, less physicians are available to provide general medicine to the masses.  This causes a larger workload for the physicians who are left in the mainstream.    This could lead to lower quality care because visits will be shortened and patients will be referred to see more physician extenders like physician assistants, nurse practitioners, etc.

Green, Sharon. Women’s Health Research Institute. Concierge Medicine: the good, the bad, and the ugly. August 29, 2011. Web. November 29, 2012. <  blog. womenshealth. northwestern. edu/ 2011/ 08/ concierge-medicine-the -good- the-bad- and-the-ugly/ #sthash.nYSsbp7y.dpuf >

Sandel even includes the skyboxification of the stadiums as unjust – doesn’t watching sports mean going elbow to elbow with everybody, from all walks of life?

Inequality is reflected, not only among buyers, but among sellers too. Sandel argued that some sellers who are in dire circumstances may be coerced to sell some things he wouldn’t normally sell.  While the buyers are not pointing guns to the sellers, the situation in which the seller finds himself makes the selling unfair and unjust. Say, poor Filipinos who resort to selling their kidneys.

Or drug-addicted women who get paid 300USD for sterilization.

Or Indian surrogate mothers who carry babies for a couple of thousand bucks..

Or prostitutes in Costa Rica who may have resorted to this profession because of poverty.

Following this line of argument, it goes to say that once the background surrounding the market transaction is fair,  then the transaction is no longer morally objectionable.

Argument #2: Market Incentives Crowd Out Non-Market Norms

The second reason is corruption, what Sandel termed as the “corrosive tendency of markets“. When a certain good is up for sale, it’s treated as a commodity. This is what I meant when I talked about musicians selling out and doing ads. Or, say slavery. When people are sold and treated as commodities, they are not treated as humans worthy of respect and dignity. 

Economists often assume that markets are inert, that they do not affect the goods they exchange. But this is untrue. Markets leave their mark. Sometimes, market values crowd out nonmarket values worth caring about.

Putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them. That’s because markets don’t only allocate goods; they express and promote certain attitudes toward the goods being exchanged. Paying kids to read books might get them to read more, but might also teach them to regard reading as a chore rather than a source of intrinsic satisfaction. Hiring foreign mercenaries to fight our wars might spare the lives of our citizens, but might also corrupt the meaning of citizenship.

 Sandel, Michael J. The Atlantic. What Isn’t for Sale? February 27, 2012. Web. November 29, 2013. <  www. theatlantic. com/ magazine/ archive/ 2012/ 04/ what- isnt- for- sale/ 308902/ >

Sandel distinguishes things for sale that can be “corrupted” : one which money can’t buy (whose value diminishes by the sale), and one which money can buy but shouldn’t (continues to function despite the sale)

Argument #2.a  : When the value of goods is corrupted through sale

 The first one talks about how market corrodes its quality by sale. Say, a diploma, or an award. The Nobel Prize would lose its meaning if it was up for sale. Degrees from reputable universities would lose its worth if any rich person can have them.  Another good case in point: friendship.

Consider friendship. Suppose you want more friends than you have. Would you try to buy some? Not likely. A moment’s reflection would lead you to realize that it wouldn’t work. A hired friend is not the same as a real one. You could hire people to do some of the things that friends typically do—picking up your mail when you’re out of town, looking after your children in a pinch, or, in the case of a therapist, listening to your woes and offering sympathetic advice. Until recently, you could even bolster your online popularity by hiring some good-looking “friends” for your Facebook page—for $0.99 per friend per month. (The phony-friend Web site was shut down after it emerged that the photos being used, mostly of models, were unauthorized.) Although all of these services can be bought, you can’t actually buy a friend. Somehow, the money that buys the friendship dissolves it, or turns it into something else.

Sandel, Michael J. Boston Review. How Markets Crowd Out Morals. May 1, 2012. Web. November 29, 2013.< www. bostonreview. net/forum- sandel- markets- morals >

Or what about professional apologies? Doesn’t an apology lose its meaning if done by someone paid to do it?

Say you’re sorry, you’re full of deepest regret, it’s your fault, it’s your bad. Say it in a multitude of ways and be prepared to be on call 24/7 to say it quickly, succinctly and diplomatically to a multitude of aggrieved plane passengers.

Those are among the qualifications you’ll need to snag a professional apologizer position at Southwest Airlines under Fred Taylor Jr. It’s one of the travel industry’s coolest gigs, brought to light by a  recent acritcle in the Chicago Tribune. But WalletPop went one step further: We interviewed Taylor to find out how you can get your sorry self to say you’re sorry for a living.

The pay is better than a schoolteacher, Taylor confirmed, and the benefits are outstanding.

Dicker, Ron. Daily Finance. Professional apologizer: Get hired for the sorriest job. August 28, 2010. Web. November 29, 2013. < www. dailyfinance. com/2010/ 08/28/ professional- apologizer- get- hired- for- the-sorriest- job/ >

Or Wedding Toasts? How would you feel if you found out your Best Man bought his toast from this site? From The Perfect Toast :

Worrying about what to say for your rehearsal or wedding toast? Want to be sure your moment in the spotlight is as special as the occasion? Let ThePerfectToast.com come to your rescue with a custom-written toast that delivers the perfect mix of humorous, heartfelt and memorable sentiments. Just select your toast role (ie. Best man, maid of honor, etc.) in the drop down, click go, complete the questionnaire and pay. That’s it! Our writers will then craft you the perfect toast. How it Works.

Or Taiwan’s professional mourners? Shouldn’t mourning be heartfelt?

Or someone to snuggle with ? Doesn’t snuggling lose its meaning when one has to pay 60USD for an hour of professional snuggling(or 425USD for an overnight service)? From The Snuggery

Professional Snuggler

Professional Snuggler. Image from The Sun

Research provides us with ample evidence that physical contact with others has a positive effect on our physical and mental health. Yet, we live in a culture that does not sanction touch simply for the sake of touch. We’re afraid of touch. Studies have found that people in the United States touch openly less frequently and with less positive feeling than people in many other countries throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, Central and South America. Consequently, we tend to be more agitated and aggressive, both verbally and physically, than people from places where affectionate touch is open and normal.

Or when kids are paid to get good grades?Some argue that kids should be encouraged to learn, not bribed to learn. If a kid is learning for the money, then what happens when the money runs out? From Debate.org

Kids Have No Entitlement to Such Payment.I am a kid myself. I go to school. I exert myself not for good grades, but for a good future, and that is what is imperative here. The intrinsic want for resplendence, adulation and prevalence will win out over our desire for money every time. Who is providing us with this money? Our parents? They already pay for our education. School is a privelige, and students need to learn that they will need a fuel other than their parents’ wealth as they become more and more independent. Grades don’t always reflect competence, either. A child who is inherently bright needs to learn there is always room for advancement, whatever his/her A+ report card says.

Or when the Inuits sell their privileges to big game hunters even though this practice lead to more jobs because:

One is that this bizarre market caters to a perverse desire that should carry no weight in any calculus of social utility. Whatever one thinks of big-game hunting, this is something else. The desire to kill a helpless mammal at close range, without any challenge or chase, simply to complete a list, is not worthy of being fulfilled, even if doing so provides extra income for the Inuit. Second, for the Inuit to sell outsiders the right to kill their allotted walruses corrupts the meaning and purpose of the exemption accorded their community in the first place. It’s one thing to honor the Inuit way of life and to respect its long-standing reliance on subsistence walrus hunting. It’s quite another to convert that privilege into a cash concession in killing on the side.

Sandel, Michael J. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012. 82-84 Print.

In my university, me and a couple of friends thought of a new and fun way to raise funds to make money during the school fare (which always fell on the Valentine week). We started a booth where people could pay us to approach their crush and tell them how they felt. Add-ons included roses (charged per piece) or serenade. Neither me nor my friends worried about the ethics of our gig- we weren’t violating any university rules and we had our permits to set-up a stall.  When the money came rolling in, we felt like total geniuses for coming up with something new. But now, reflecting on it, I wondered what I would have done  if I were on the receiving end of that service? Would I feel irritated that the boy (or girl) who liked me hired somebody else to say for him what he didn’t have the guts to tell me in my face? And wouldn’t his(or her) I-like-you lose its meaning?

Argument #2.b  : When  buying and selling of a good is morally controversial

The second kind of corruption points to goods whose qualities remain untarnished even when up for sale. The question is not with the quality but the morality of entering these goods in the market. A sale of kidney will not erode that kidney’s quality. Fire trucks  with corporate logos will still douse flames. Police cars with ads will continue to run as before. Corporate-sponsored textbooks will still teach kids how to count. A rocket with logo will still perform its functions in space.

Firetruck with logo

Firetruck with logo

Schoolbus with Ads

Schoolbus with Ads

Corporate-Sponsored Police Cars

Corporate-Sponsored Police Cars

Ajinomoto Stadium

Ajinomoto Stadium

If you are confused it’s because there’s but a blurred line separating these these two kinds of corruption.

So it seems, at first glance, that there is a sharp distinction between two kinds of goods: the things (like friends) that money can’t buy, and the things (like kidneys) that money can buy but arguably shouldn’t. But this distinction is less clear than it first appears. If we look more closely, we can glimpse a connection between the obvious cases, in which the monetary exchange spoils the good being bought, and the controversial cases, in which the good survives the selling but is arguably degraded, or corrupted, or diminished as a result. Once we see that connection, we have to ask where markets belong, and where they don’t. And the question of where markets belong is really about how we want to live together. We can’t answer it without thinking about the meaning and purpose of goods and the values that should govern them.

Sandel, Michael J. Boston Review. How Markets Crowd Out Morals. May 1, 2012. Web. November 29, 2013.<  www. bostonreview.net/ forum- sandel- markets- morals >

Whichever kind of corruption, making the background fair and just does not meet the argument.

In summary…

Each objection draws on a different moral ideal. The fairness argument draws on the ideal of consent or, more precisely, the ideal of consent carried out under fair background conditions. Market choices are not free choices if some people are desperately poor or lack the ability to bargain on fair terms. So in order to know whether a market choice is a free choice, we have to ask what inequalities in the background conditions of society undermine meaningful consent.

Sandel, Michael J. Boston Review. How Markets Crowd Out Morals. May 1, 2012. Web. November 29, 2013.< h www. bostonreview. net/forum -sandel- markets -morals >

Sandel doesn’t have one definite answer on what should be up for sale and what shouldn’t be. It is for us to decide. It is, after all, a free market.

And so, in the end, the question of  markets is really a question about how we want to live together. Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods  that markets do not honor  and money cannot buy?

Sandel, Michael J. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012. 201-202. Print.

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This entry was posted on November 29, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , .
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