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What Money Can’t Buy. Michael Sandel. A Socialist Review.

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What Money Can’t Buy. Michael Sandel. The Moral Limits of Markets.   Allen Lane. 2012.

Conservative MP, Ben Gummer (Ipswich), believes that owning a business should give you an extra vote in municipal elections. Local councillors too often “cannot read a balance sheet”. Towns and cities need to be run by those who can. Following the City of London there should be special electoral privileges given to companies and their owners. This would help councils face economic reality.

It’s hard not to be reminded of this when reading Michael Sandel’s new book. The philosopher notes that “Today, almost everything is up for sale”. In Santa Ana California you can by a “prison cell upgrade” to make your time in goal more comfortable. You can get into a top university by paying, passing ahead of those with better grades.

“Jumping the queue” with cash, for everything from airport immigration control, theatre tickets to medical care, is spreading like wildfire across the USA. These, and other aspects of “marketisation”, from corporations benefiting from ‘insuring’ their employees lives, to rampant advertising and ‘sponsorship’, are part of a world where “everything is up for sale”.

Sandel is less sure-footed about the UK. Here people have, despite the NHS, been able to pay to jump the queue for medical needs; public schools offer a way to buy an education that guarantees far superior access to Universities.

But there are signs that the process is not so different.

Conservative councils, like Barnet, propose offering better services and quicker access to those who can fork out cash. Companies and others have been able to purchase influence over Academy Schools. Now ‘free schools’ are a way for those with the money to get state support for their educational projects, including private firms and religious groups. Payment extends to lesser affairs. To urinate in a Council (though privately run) lavatory in Westminster costs 50 pence, leaving the really poor to piss in the streets.

Markets and Queues.

“Markets and queues – paying and waiting – are two different ways of allocating things…” Sandel writes. There is an “ethic of the queue” It is, ‘First come, first served’. It “ignores privilege, power and “deep pockets”. There is a deep resentment against anybody who refuses to wait her or his turn. It is, one might say, justice as fairness. Read the rest of this entry »