Yes, capitalism really is working … for the Forbes Global Billionaires! Their ranks swelled from 322 in 2000 to 2,043 in 2017, adding 233 in the last year alone. Total net worth: $7.7 trillion. Plus, Credit Suisse Bank says that at this rate we’ll have 11 trillionaire families by 2100. Moreover, today, just 67 billionaires have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion half of the world. And the income of the average American worker has stagnated for a generation since the Reagan era.
Yes, capitalism is “working” for billionaires … but for the vast majority of the world, however, capitalism is a failure … capitalism is blowing a massive “inequality bubble”… destined to implode, self-destruct, everybody!
Over a billion live on less than two dollars a day. In his Capital in the Twenty-First Century, economist Thomas Piketty warns, this inequality gap is toxic, dangerous. As global population explodes from 7 billion to 10 billion by 2050, food production will deteriorate. No wonder Pope Francis warns: “Inequality is the root of social ills,” fueling more poverty, hunger, wars, revolutions.
For years we’ve been asking: Why does the capitalist brain blindly drive down this irrational path of self-destruction? We found someone who brilliantly explains why free market capitalism is hell-bent on destroying itself and the world along with it: Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the new best-seller, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets and his earlier classic, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?
Moral Compass Shifts From “Market Economy” to “Market Society”
For more than three decades Sandel’s been teaching us why capitalism is undermining human morality … and why we keep denying this insanity. Why do we bargain away our moral soul? His classes number over a thousand. You can even take his course online free. He even summarized capitalism’s takeover of America’s conscience in “What Isn’t for Sale?” in The Atlantic. Listen:
“Without being fully aware of the shift, Americans have drifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society … where almost everything is up for sale … a way of life where market values seep into almost every sphere of life and sometimes crowd out or corrode important values, nonmarket values.” Here’s a short summary:
“The years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 were a heady time of market faith and deregulation — an era of market triumphalism,” says Sandel. “The era began in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclaimed their conviction that markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom.” And in the 1990s with the “market-friendly liberalism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who moderated but consolidated the faith that markets are the primary means for achieving the public good.”
So today, “almost everything can be bought and sold.” Today “markets, and market values, have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us,” says Sandel. Over the years, “market values were coming to play a greater and greater role in social life. Economics was becoming an imperial domain. Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone. It increasingly governs the whole of life.”
How a “Not-So-Free” Market Manipulates Your Morals
Yes, it’s everywhere: “Markets to allocate health, education, public safety, national security, criminal justice, environmental protection, recreation, procreation, and other social goods unheard of 30 years ago. Today, we take them largely for granted.”
PUBLIC SERVICES … for-profit schools, hospitals, prisons … outsourcing war to private contractors … police forces by private guards “almost twice the number of public police officers” … drug “companies aggressive marketing of prescription drugs directly to consumers, a practice … prohibited in most other countries.”
ADVERTISEMENTS: in “public schools … busses … corridors … cafeterias … naming rights to parks and civic spaces … blurred boundaries, within journalism, between news and advertising … marketing of ‘designer’ eggs and sperm … buying and selling … the right to pollute … campaign finance … comes close to permitting buying and selling of elections.”
INVESTING: “The financial crisis did more than cast doubt on the ability of markets to allocate risk efficiently. It also prompted a widespread sense that markets have become detached from morals.” Then comes the big question: So what? “Why worry that we are moving toward a society in which everything is up for sale?” There’s much more, says Sandel.
CORRUPTION: “Putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them … markets don’t only allocate goods, they express and promote certain attitudes toward the goods being exchanged.” Also “corrupt the meaning of citizenship. Economists often assume that markets … do not affect the goods being exchanged. But this is untrue. Markets leave their mark.”
INEQUALITY: “Where everything is for sale, life is harder for those of modest means.” If wealth just bought things, yachts, sports cars, and fancy vacations, inequalities wouldn’t matter much. “But as money comes to buy more and more, the distribution of income and wealth looms larger.”
Morals Now Just “Commodities For Sale to Highest Bidder”
Sandel warns that America’s new capitalist mindset is crowding out “nonmarket values worth caring about. When we decide that certain goods may be bought and sold,” they become “commodities, as instruments of profit and use.” But “not all goods are properly valued in this way … Slavery was appalling because it treated human beings as a commodity, to be bought and sold at auction,” failing to “value human beings as persons, worthy of dignity and respect; it sees them as instruments of gain and objects of use.”
Nor do we permit “children to be bought and sold, no matter how difficult the process of adoption can be.” The same with citizenship … jury duty … voting rights … “we believe that civic duties are not private property but public responsibilities. To outsource them is to demean them, to value them in the wrong way.” Many things should never be commodities.
Sandel’s core message is simple: “The good things in life are degraded if turned into commodities. So to decide where the market belongs, and where it should be kept at a distance, we have to decide how to value the goods in question — health, education, family life, nature, art, civic duties, and so on. These are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones.”
Unfortunately, we never had that debate during the 30-year rise of “market triumphalism. As a result, without quite realizing it — without ever deciding to do so — we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.” And “the difference is this: A market economy is a tool … for organizing productive activity. A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor. It’s a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market.” The difference is profound.
Not only did the debate never happen. It may never. Why? Because now politicians aren’t up to debating values, so are pushing us past the point of no return. Today’s “political argument consists mainly of shouting matches on cable television, partisan vitriol on talk radio, and ideological food fights on the floor of Congress,” says Sandel. So “it’s hard to imagine a reasoned public debate about such controversial moral questions as the right way to value procreation, children, education, health, the environment, citizenship, and other goods.”
Capitalism Pushing America Past The Moral “Point-Of-No-Return”
Can we change? “The appeal of using markets to put a price on public values, is that there’s no judgment on the preferences they satisfy.” Debate is unnecessary. Markets don’t “ask whether some ways of valuing goods are higher, or worthier, than others. If someone is willing to pay for sex, or a kidney … the only question the economist asks is ‘How much?’ Markets … don’t discriminate between worthy preferences and unworthy ones.”
This much is guaranteed: Capitalism is eliminating moral values. As Sandel puts it: “Each party to a deal decides for him- or herself what value to place on the things being exchanged. This nonjudgmental stance toward values lies at the heart of market reasoning, and explains much of its appeal.” But unfortunately, market capitalism has also “exacted a heavy price … drained public discourse of moral and civic energy.”
In the Reagan era S&L scandals a generation ago, over a 1,000 bankers went to jail as felons. Today politicians protect crooked bankers. No Wall Street executives prosecuted for fraud after 2008’s massive losses. Now Congress simply chastises them before “clawing back” millions from their excessive pay. But no jail time.
The good professor is a great teacher, with one glaring flaw, he’s too idealistic, too quixotic. You don’t have to be a fatalist to know that without a catastrophic economic collapse, free-market capitalists —the world’s 1,826 billionaires, Wall Street bankers and corporate CEOs, hedge managers, lobbyists and every other special interest getting rich off consumerism and the new “Market Society” — will never voluntarily surrender their control over the American political system. Rather, they will blindly continue down their self-destructive path with a bizarre conviction they are somehow “divinely” guided by the “Invisible Hand” of Ayn Rand’s “mutant capitalism” and America’s insatiable consumerism.
Meanwhile, we have no choice but to wait patiently till the collapse, anxiously aware that our bizarre political system will just keep degrading America’s moral values, pricing, buying, selling, trading morals like commodities, because in the final analysis, everything has a price and everyone has a price in our hot new exciting Market Society.