It is rare for economists and other champions of the marketplace to step outside of their worldview and see it as an ideological value-system. How refreshing, then, to see the Wall Street Journal run a favorable review of Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel’s new book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limit of Markets. The review, by Jonathan V. Last of the conservative Weekly Standard, notes that economistic thinking has exploded over the past generation, superimposing market criteria on countless aspects of personal and social life.
In 1988, only three stadiums had the names of corporate overlords. Now more than 100 companies have bought “naming rights” to stadiums. I was shocked to learn that “brand extension” has even reached the level of requiring the announcers for the Arizona Diamondbacks to call home runs “Bank One Boomers.” The degradation of a venerated national pastime shows how very deeply the tendrils of market thinking have penetrated.
This is only the beginning. List writes:
"Today you can purchase your way out of waiting in line for rides at many amusement parks. There are express lanes that allow us to buy our way out of traffic. Many schools now 'incentivize' performance, paying students if they read books or do well in school; some schools now sell ads on children's report cards. Cities routinely sell advertising space on public property, ranging from parks and municipal buildings to police cars. In each of these cases, long-held ideas about inherent worth and common ownership have been displaced by the simple morality of the market. There are, Mr. Sandel notes, practical concerns with this shift, affecting matters such as equality: 'The more money can buy, the more affluence (or the lack of it) matters." But the higher concerns are philosophical and spiritual, about how we ought to value what he calls sweetly "the good things in life.'"