what money can’t buy

Do markets have moral limits as the subtitle to this book I’m reading at the moment says?

‘What Money Can’t buy,’ by philosopher Michael Sandel was reviewed by John Lanchester in the Guardian last year.

Now Sandel is probably best known if at all for his ‘Justice’ lectures which are delivered in a very entertaining style and can be found on youtube and elsewhere online…

To come back to the book in question – Using various examples such as the idea of paying school kids to read or the example quoted in Lanchester’s review of Wal-Mart taking out life insurance on their employees for their own benefit Sandel makes a compelling argument that yes markets do have limits and that society is increasingly ignoring those limits. He writes from a mainly US perspective, but given what has been happening in the UK since the eighties and only sped up under the Coalition (see the Health and Social Care bill etc) we can easily see similar examples in the UK and the rest of Europe.

Of course most of this is not news to most trade unionists and others on the left (though I admit the Wal-Mart example did shock me for a moment), so why bother reading books like this; and using the examples and arguments thrown up by them?

Well for me it’s simple – Sandel is clearly a liberal, he writes from a liberal perspective and frames his arguments in the language of liberals. I don’t mean liberal in the US sense of the word either, but how we generally use it in the UK. Like it or not this is language which is used by a large number of the people those of us who want to see progressive values and social justice upheld and extended within our society need to work with and influence to help build a broad movement that can challenge the current over-arching narrative of austerity.

That’s not to say that they are our sole targets or allies but they are people we need on side and people like Sandel, like John Lanchester for that matter, and like the authors of the ‘Spirit Level’ can help them see things in a different light, in a way that a poorly printed socialist newspaper or for that matter a classy looking Zero books publication will not.

Another place where a similar argument is being made by Economist writer Philip Coggan, author of ‘The Last Vote’, interviewed here on the Guardian weekly politics podcast.

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