What Money Can't buy: A piece of advice for President Obama from Michael Sandel
Category : Blog
You think the financial crisis in 2008 should awake most people by now, and make people re-consider about market value. But it has not really happened. Michael Sandel called the era we are in, the market triumphalism era.
Michael J. Sandel (born March 5, 1953) is an American political philosopher and a professor at Harvard University. He is best known for the Harvard course ‘Justice’, which is available to view online, and for his critique of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice in his Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1982). He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002.
If we look at the recent presidential election, both candidates did not mention anything about big changes on Wall Street. Even though people were trying to stand up for themselves and protest on Wall Street, we have not had a serious discussion of the moral limit of the market. Michael Sandel claimed that he is not against market, but he is suggesting that we need to have a public discussion about where market serve the public goods,and where they over reach. This is the debate we have not had in the US. What we have debated is a limited debate about regulations in financial industry. Some measures have been enacted. Those measures are not enough, because of the phenomenon of “TOO BIG TO FAIL”. Those massive firms are not allowed to fail. If one firm failed, it will create a fear of the economic melt down. So the ways of how Wall Street operate have not been fundamentally changed. Despite the tax payer bailout, we did not demand enough accountability from those big firms.
Money does play a big role in politics. Both parties received a big portion of political donation from the Wall Street, the difference is one is higher than the other one. That is one of the reason that no candidate want to discuss deeper on the Wall Street issues. There is another deeper reason. For the last 30 years, both parties have operated under the assumption that market is the major instrument to achieve the public good. This is how America built on. It is neutral to all of us to use market to decide social questions and public policies.
Michael Sandel was asked: If you were invited to the White House and have a sincere conversation with President Obama, not a political performance, but a deep and sincere conversation, what piece of advice you will give to President Obama?
He said: I will advice him that he should try to find a way to re-capture the idealism, the moral idealism, that he inspired his 2008 campaign for the presidency. He is an inspiring figure, who seemed capable to lift the public discourse above the small things, above narrow economic and technocratic questions, to a larger moral and ethical discussion. That was why he is so inspiring in 2008. During the first 4 year of his presidency, he found it difficult to translate that idealism and that inspirational quality into governing. In fairness, he took office, just in the mid of this terrible financial crisis which is not his makings, he felt the urgent need, what he thought was necessary to stabilize the system. When you stabilize the system which is in a risk of descending into a crisis, it is hard to be inspiring and that muted his moral voice. He is not quite recovered yet. So my advice would be in his second term of presidency, try to recover some of his moral energy and promise to lift up the terms of public discourse.
Michael Sandel reminds us, market is a tool, it is a fair invisible tool. Market society is a lifestyle, that people measure everything from a market value perspective, even when we are talking about political campaign, health, natural disaster, money can buy everything.
Too many people think market value is the justice. There are many things in the world that money can’t buy.