Miss City Discovers: The Fresh, Correct Assess

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Fresh, Correct Assess

The Fresh, Correct Assess

Over the last 30 years, market and market values have increasingly directed American life, prompting philosophers like Michael Sandel, author of What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, to pose questions regarding whether we have morphed from a market economy into a market society where social decisions are determined not by reasoned public debate but rather financial and economic market forces. Sandel questions if the current state of our public discourse is up to the task of tackling the numerous moral issues of what should be determined purely by the free market, what should be determined by, or at least guided by, public dialogue and lastly, where appropriate, what should be limited by shared moral boundaries through government intervention.
While Sandel’s piece does not attempt to answer these moral questions, he certainly implies through various examples that we have crossed a moral threshold into the Market Society.  Sandel adeptly raises eyebrows with examples of; A prison-cell upgrade: $90 a night; Access to the carpool lane while driving solo: $8, The right to shoot an endangered black rhino: $250,000, The right to emit a metric ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere: $10.50, The right to immigrate to the United States: $500,000, Serving as a human guinea pig in a drug-safety trial for a pharmaceutical company: $7,500, Fight in Somalia or Afghanistan for a private military contractor: up to $1,000 a day, and if you are a second-grader in an underachieving Dallas school, read a book: $2  (Freedom of speech – priceless). However, the common denominator underlying each of the above-mentioned examples is the fact that every one of them was, in fact, sanctioned or actually adopted by government, be it local or national, to either raise money for the government or achieve some other social or economic objective. For example, prisons are run by local, state and federal governments, and every extra fee charged to inmates while serving time, goes to maintaining and supporting those prisons.
If one believes, as I do, that these examples, at a minimum, raise questions of appropriate moral and ethical behavior, then perhaps the better question is whether our current democratic government system, existing within today’s political, technological and ADD culture, can continue to serve as the ultimate assessing process of societal ethics and morals.  Would Thaddeus Stevens’ quest to end slavery through eloquent and moral conviction have prevailed today?  Are we now better served to take the moral pulse of society via the monitoring of Twitter and Facebook?  If our current government system, in which we deal with these social issues, is falling short in so much as placing the problems clearly on the table, then perhaps it is time to rethink our method of evaluation for our current social difficulties. With every new “toy” or increasingly advanced technology, we should be moving closer to openly sharing our thoughts, opinions and experiences regarding the way we live. Sandel’s main argument of the nation’s necessity to ‘start a conversation’ feels outdated when I instantaneously receive a tweet from a medical scholar in China regarding a new advancement in stem cell research.
Ultimately, it is only through the authority of government that social morals, through whatever form of public discourse, can be placed on the free market system.  The idea that the government can limit exchanges between two consenting parties is certainly up for debate depending on the good in question, and how much government involvement would be necessary. However, overall government involvement concerning market regulation should be thoroughly examined and agreed upon by the general public before market values tremendously alter the way we interact and work with each other.
By way of example, it is my personal belief that one aspect of the American market that government should be involved in is our health care system. I believe that in a thriving and powerful country like the United States, the people should collectively take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. We have the responsibility to care for those who cannot provide their own healthcare, similarly to how we pay taxes for our education system to educate our youth. I believe that a human being’s health should not be placed in the same category as an inanimate object, such as the newest BMW, within our market. National provided healthcare is one social concept I agree with and I believe worthy of a robust social debate to limit the free market for the greater good of society.  
While too much government limitation of financial incentives driven by free market forces would discourage motivation for success, without any government oversight or government provided services, can society truly prosper in all aspects of life? If we had no police, traffic lights, sewers, or a public education system, could we rely totally on charity and the private sectors to fill those needs? Like Sandel, I believe that society has to determine what the minimum services are that a government should provide for its citizens and what it should not.  A basic level of health care (meaning annual health check-ups, and saving those who are dying on the street and disregarding all other health conventions) should be provided to everybody, just like protection with police, fire departments, traffic and road infrastructure. Perhaps a system like India’s, where healthcare is free, but a higher level of care must be compensated for and procured in an open market, is an option to consider.
Matt Welch, another economist who responded to Sandel’s piece, considers the example of whether kidneys should or shouldn’t be up for sale in the market. Based on the number of kidneys needed, and the number that are actually received, he says that sentencing more than 6,000 people a year to an avoidable death is less moral than allowing kidney sales into the market, because with a monetary reward, people will be more willing to give up their kidneys. It’s exactly because of markets, and their allowance of choices for the public, that Welch believes markets do not control his life. Ultimately, his point is that people are unnecessarily dying (in the case of the Kidneys) because of the public’s general disgust in markets that are simply allowing consensual behavior to occur.
One may argue that a society where “cutting lines” occurs is corrupt. However, I believe that a society that trusts in meritocracy, or the idea that people should be rewarded based on their success, may ultimately advance the society. If a professor gives every student a “C” to level the playing field, doesn’t that prevent a student who could receive an “A” or a student who may receive an “F” from learning how to achieve individual successes, innovate, and propel themselves, and the society in which they live, forward? If a student realizes early on, based on their excelling in mathematics, that they have a talent for equations or formulas, they may go on to create the newest iPhone app that allows you to enter your weight, the amount of hours you’ve been drinking, and the number of drinks you’ve had to calculate your BAC, and in turn likely saving lives with their “Call a Cab” button if they are over the legal limit.
Sandel’s questions about the morality of markets are consistent with my questioning government’s ability to truly make balanced socially responsible decisions. I believe in a democratic system to govern based upon the will of the people.  Our current culture has better tools than ever through social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to gauge our societal values and communicate them to our elected leaders. The Arab Spring is but the first of many government transformations to emerge from our tremendous ability to network, communicate and generate change. 


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