Saturday, January 4, 2014

Michael Sandel: The Moral Limits of Markets: A Conversation of Value

The Moral Limit of the Markets is a discussion led by Michael Sandel, an American political philosopher and a professor at Harvard University.

There are many aspects of modern life that appear to be pushing the limits of traditional moral thinking.  This discussion looks at the market economy (a tool) and a market society (everything is for sale).  Current practices are demonstrating that there is a continued drift of value definition, with almost complete emphasis on economic value.  Other values that may matter are civic, communal, societal, or environmental.  I would add spiritual.  But if we are already having problems with integrating societal/environmental/communal values, spiritual values that are considerably more complex to 'measure' are probably not on the agenda, yet.

In the original posting of this video on Naked Capitalism, reference was made to the lack of coherent and distinctive thought by some of the attending participants.  I think this is an important observation.  If there is one thing that I am trying to teach my children, or mentor with my colleagues, is to know why decisions are being made.  Specifically, I am less concerned with the decision itself, and much more interested in why any one particular choice has been made.  

Much like Yves comment in the NC Introin my experience, respondents to the simple question of why also have little depth to why they are making particular choices.  Even to the extent that they are confounded when they realize what might have been shaping their decisions as we probe in more detail.  Independent critical thought in general is lacking - and I believe this is an outcome to developing a modern society where being accountable is less priority that the economic value.  Regulation.  Societal hierarchy.  It's someone else's responsibility.  Or in the matter of a market, with a buyer, a seller, and a price, what is it worth to you?  Economics trumps all.

The history of economics included that economics was intended to be the value neutral science.    In reality economics in an of itself has become the only value of value to include in any analysis.  As Dr. Sandel states, what values are at stake with any particular decision regarding the setting of society's priority of values?

Economic value has brought vastly improved standards of living across so many different planes, so of course it is important.  But has economic value been elevated in value priority to the detriment of other (possibly equally or more important) values?  Can we better understand the values we prioritize with complete transparency to the externalities and unintended consequences?

Dr. Sandel referred to much of the current public discourse being centered on technochratic managerial thinking.  He believes we need to reconnect with the bigger questions in economic circles.  Where and where not do we want 'markets'.  We need to develop a keener sense of the price we pay for the market driven society.  I agree.


Barbara Bohr said...

Sandel's debates are fabulous and fun to watch. His ideas on humans as social beings rather than market-driven narcissists resonate a lot with me. In this respect, I'd like to point you to the Belgian clinical psychologist Paul Verhaeghe who published a book titled "Identity" showing in how far our current neoliberal society damages us by us denying the social self of our personalities.
I'm not sure the book has been translated into English. It was a bestseller in the Netherlands and was translated into German last year. It would definitely deserve an English translation.

Tahoe said...

thank you. I like the way he thinks - I am certain there are many perspectives, I just like this. I will follow up as you have recommended. Thank you!