Michael Sandel’s TED talk “Why we shouldn’t trust markets with our civic life” raises some important questions about the limits of markets as a way of addressing social issues.
One of his central arguments is that, when considering non-material goods, market mechanisms (e.g., put a price on something, or cash incentives) can change the nature of the goods. So if we pay kids to read books, it can change their motivation to read and the types of books they read (shorter books become more attractive!) A reliance on market forces is likely to lead to unintended negative consequence.
I do have real concerns about the emphasis on market-based solutions to social issues, the push for community-based organisations to act more like a business, and the emphasis on measuring the health of a nation by its economic status.
Climate change is demonstrating that our current economic system is failing and that we need to re-think some of our priorities. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our evening news did not always have a market report but instead had a daily report community wellbeing or our progress towards ending world poverty.
Imagine conversations through the world about what was really important to us. Yes economic and physical wellbeing are important, but I suspect that (once our basic needs are met) things like our families, social connection, a sense of worth and a healthy environment would be much more important.
I will continue to put my energy in the groups and processes that help build connections, value people and the environment over money and material gain, and contribute to a more just, peaceful world.
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