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Michael Sandel: Why we shouldn't trust markets with our civic life

Michael Sandel - Political philosopher
Michael Sandel teaches political philosophy at Harvard, exploring some of the most hotly contested moral and political issues of our time.

Why you should listen

Michael Sandel is one of the best known American public intellectuals. The London Observer calls him "one of the most popular teachers in the world" and indeed his lectures at Harvard draw thousands of students eager to discuss big questions of modern political life: bioethics, torture, rights versus responsibilities, the value we put on things. Sandel's class is a primer on thinking through the hard choices we face as citizens. The course has been turned into a public TV series with companion website and book:Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? In his newest book,What Money Can't Buy, he challenges the idea that markets are morally neutral.
"To understand the importance of his purpose," a Guardian reviewer wrote of the book, "you first have to grasp the full extent of the triumph achieved by market thinking in economics, and the extent to which thinking has spread to other domains. This school sees economics as a discipline that has nothing to do with morality, and is instead the study of incentives, considered in an ethical vacuum. Sandel's book is, in its calm way, an all-out assault on that idea, and on the influential doctrine that the economic approach to "utility maximization" explains all human behavior. "

Read more about his thinking on markets and morality: "Lunch with Michael Sandel" on FT.com >>

More profile about the speaker
Michael Sandel | Speaker | TED.com


In the past three decades, says Michael Sandel, the US has gone from a market economy to a market society; it can be said that an American perception of a common civil life depends on how much money someone has at their disposal. (Three examples: access to education, access to justice, political influence.) In a speech and audience discussion, Sandel asks us to think seriously about the question: Is there too much for sale in our democracy today?
Michael Sandel - Political philosopher
Michael Sandel teaches political philosophy at Harvard, exploring some of the most hotly contested moral and political issues of our time. Full bio

Double-click the English transcript below to play the video.

a we need to:
Here is a question we should
need to rethink together:
What should be the of
What role should money
and in our?
and markets play in our societies?
, there are very things
Today there are very few things
that can't.
that money cannot buy.
If you're to a
If you are in Santa Barbara, California,
in , ,
have been sentenced to prison,
that if you don't like the,
if the standard accommodations
You don't like
you can a.
buy a prison cell upgrade.
It's. For how much, do you think?
Honest. What do you think,
how much does that cost?
What would you?
It's not the. It's a!
It's not the Ritz-Carlton.
It is a prison!
a night.
a night.
If you go to
When you go to an amusement park
and don't want to in the long
and not in the long lines
in front of the most popular attractions
for the,
there is now a.
there is now a solution.
In, you can
In many theme parks
can you pay more,
to the of the.
to go straight to the beginning
to get to the snake.
They call them or.
This is called the fast lane
or VIP tickets.
And this isn't only in.
And that doesn't just happen in theme parks.
In, D.C., long,
In Washington, D.C., sometimes arise
at important congress negotiations.
Now some people don't like to wait in long,
But some don't like to wait
in long lines,
maybe, even in the.
sometimes at night, even in the rain.
So now, for and
Well, for lobbyists and others,
who are very to these
the very keen on
such negotiations are
but don't like to wait, there are,
but don't like to wait
are there companies
queuing companies,
and you can go to those
You can them a of,
pay them a certain sum
they people and who need a
they hire homeless people and others
who need a job
to in the for as long as it takes,
for as long as necessary
to stand in line
and the, just before the,
and the lobbyist can
just before the negotiation begins,
can take his or her at the of the
his or her place
at the beginning of the line
and a in the of the.
and take a seat in the front of the room.
Paid queuing.
It's, the to
The time has come, the reclamation
of market mechanism
and and,
and market thinking and market solutions,
in .
Take the way we our.
Take the way
how we fight wars.
Did you know that, in and,
Did you know it
in Iraq and Afghanistan
there were more on the
more private military entrepreneurs
gave on the ground
than there were U.S. ?
than US
military forces?
Now this isn't because we had a
That is by no means due
public discussion
about we wanted to
about whether we are going to war
to private companies
but this is what has.
Over the,
Over the past three decades
we have a.
we went through a silent revolution.
We have each other, almost
without noticing
from a
from a market economy
moved to a market society.
The is this: A is a,
The difference is as follows:
A market economy is a tool
a and,
a useful and effective tool,
to organize productive activity,
but a is a where
but a market society is a place
everything is up for.
where almost everything is for sale.
It's a way of life, in
It's a way of life
in the market thinking
and to
of life:
to dominate every aspect of life:
, life,,,
personal relationships,
Family life, health, education,
,, life.
Politics, law, public life.
Now why? Why about our
So why should you
Worry about
that we become market societies?
For two, I think.
For two reasons I think.
One of them has to do with.
One has to do with inequality.
The more things can,
The more things money can buy
the more, or the of it,.
the more prosperity matters
or the lack of wealth.
If the only thing that
If the only thing
what money would determine
what to or or,
access to yachts or
expensive vacations or BMWs,
then very much.
then there would be inequality
don't matter very much.
But when to
But when money always has more access
to the of the good life -
to the essentials
of a good life rules,
, to the,
adequate health care,
Access to the best education,
and in -
a political voice
and influence in campaigns -
when to all of those things,
when money rules all these things
a great.
then inequality matters a lot.
And so the of everything
And so intensified the marketing of everything
the of
the sting of inequality
and its and.
and its social and
civil consequences.
That's one to.
That's a reason to be concerned.
There's a
Besides worrying about inequality
from the about,
there is a second cause for concern
with some and,
some social goods
and habits could
when and,
when market thinking and market values ​​occur,
they the of those
change their meaning,
and out and
and displace attitudes and norms,
I'd like to take an
I would like to give an example
of a use of a,
of a controversial use
of market mechanisms,
a, and see what you think about it.
a financial incentive
and hear what you think of it.
with the
Many schools are fighting
with the challenge
Motivate children, especially children
from, to,
from disadvantaged backgrounds,
hard to learn
to do well in, to.
being good at school
and to strive.
Some have a:
Some economists have
proposed a market solution:
to for good
Financial incentives for children
to offer if they have good grades
or get high scores in tests,
or for.
They even tried it.
in some.
in some major American cities.
In, in, in, D.C.,
In New York, in Chicago
in Washington, D.C.
this, 50 for an A,
has you tried
To give 50 dollars for an one
35 for a B.
In,, they have a that
There's a program in Dallas, Texas
the eight year old
two for they.
gives two dollars for every book
that they read.
So let's see what - Some people are in,
Some people advocate this and
some people are to this
others are against this financial incentive,
Let's see what people here think about it.
Let's see what people
think about it here.
that you are the of a,
Imagine that you are
be at the top of a large school system,
and to you with this.
and someone comes
with this suggestion towards you.
And let's say it's a. They will the.
Let's say it's a foundation.
They provide the funds.
You don't have to take it out of yours.
You don't have to
Pay from your budget.
How would be in
How many of you would be for it
and how would be to it a try?
and how many against
to try it out?
Let's see by a of.
We vote by show of hands.
First, how think it at be a try
First, how many of you think it is
at least worth a try
to see if it would work? your.
to see if it works?
Raise your hand.
And how would be? How would -
So the here are
So the majority are against
but a are in.
but a sizeable minority is in favor.
Let's have a.
Let's discuss it.
Let's with those of you who,
Let's start with those who are against
who would it out even before.
who would rule it out
without trying.
What would be your?
Who will get our? Yes?
Who is starting the discussion? Yes?
: , In the ,
Heike Moses: Hello everyone, my name is Heike,
and I think it just the,
and i think it is
simply destroys the inner motivation,
so in the that, if they would like to,
so one takes away from the children
if you like to read,
you just take this away
just get rid of the incentive
by paying them
in just them, so it just.
so you change behavior.
: Takes the away.
Michael Sandel: It takes away the inner stimulus.
What is, or should be, the?
What is, or should the internal incentive be?
: Well, the
HM: Well, the inner incentive
should be to.
it should be to learn.
: To.
: To get to know the.
MS: To learn.
HM: Getting to know the world.
And then, if you stop them, what then?
And when you stop
to pay them, what happens then?
Then they stop?
Then do you stop reading?
: Now, let's see if there's who,
MS: Well, let's see
whether there is a proponent
who it's this.
who thinks it's worth a try.
: In the ,
Elizabeth Loftus: I am Elizabeth Loftus,
and you said a try, so why not try it
and you said 'it's worth a try'
so why not
and do the and things?
dare to experiment
and measure the results?
: And. And what would you?
MS: And measure.
What would you measure
how -
You would measure how many ...
: How they
EL: How many books you read
and how they to
and how books keep reading them
after you them.
after you stop paying them.
: Oh, after you.
MS: Oh after one
has stopped paying.
All right, what about that?
: To be, I just think
HM: To be honest I think
this is not to, a very way.
that this, without wanting to offend anyone,
is a very American method.
() ()
: All right. What's from this
MS: Very well. From this discussion derives
is the:
Will the out or
Will the financial incentive
to scare away the deeper motivation,
or out the,
spoil or suppress,
the that we to,
the inner lesson,
that we hope to convey
is to to love to and to
namely to learn to love learning
and to read for their own sake?
And people about what the will be,
And people disagree
how does that work
but that to be the,
but the question seems to be
that a
or a the,
or financial incentives somehow
teach the wrong lesson
and if it does, what will of these?
and if so what will
later from these children?
I should tell you what's with these.
I should enlighten you
what happened to these experiments.
The for good has had very,
The money for good grades
had very mixed results,
for the has not in.
and has mostly
did not lead to better grades.
The two for
The two dollars for each book
did those to more.
have led to
that these children read more books.
It led them to.
It also led to
that they read shorter books.
But the is,