I attended a public lecture in London last night by Michael Sandel. He is an American political philosopher and a professor at Harvard University. He writes on the limits of the market in defining value and ethics (broadly speaking). In other words money can’t buy everything – maybe not even very much at all. And it certainly shouldn’t define everything.
His point, and a very perceptive one, is that we have morphed from a market economy to a market society. In effect this means nearly every decision, including ethical and moral ones, is squeezed through the grid of economics and incentivisation. He is somewhat bemused by this latter term as it has only been coined in the last few decades, but its advent points to a major and possibly cataclysmic shift in the Western world. We truly are serving Mammon and we seem utterly unashamed of it.
My last point wasn’t his – but it certainly is where his leads.
He gave numerous examples of the fact that money isn’t enough – and in fact never was meant to be and never will be. Paying people to do things that would once have been the domain of discipline and community responsibility, he believes, is not helpful or fruitful. Trying to find fiscal value in everything – as though money is the answer – degrades ethics, and erodes morality. it is positively corrosive.
He is worth reading, and his read on the Western world makes me suspect he is a secular prophet – but probably a little like John the Baptist – voice crying in the wilderness.