Paul Sweeney: Markets and morality is an interesting subject. It should be on every economics course, but is probably absent under the narrow regime of the neo-classical economics which dominates Irish universities (to our cost).
On BBC 4, Michael Sandel, Harvard Professor of Government, delivers four lectures about the prospects of a new politics of the common good. The series is presented and chaired by Sue Lawley. He is critical of economists and economic commentators.
He reviews three decades of market triumphalism, and argues that it is not sufficient to curb greed and set up new regulations. He argues that markets are not mere mechanisms, but have moral impacts. Market incentives can crowd out other norms, he says.
He says the incentive payment of $2 to read a book for US children in some schools has other impacts. He argues strongly against the marketisation of migration policy by influential right wing economist, Gary Becker. Becker advocates that US citizenship should be sold for $50,000 and this will bring in the best of foreigners – those who are skilled and ambition.
In the first lecture, given on Tuesday 9th June 2009, Sandel considers the expansion of markets and how we determine their moral limits. Should immigrants, for example, pay for citizenship? Should we pay schoolchildren for good test results, or even to read a book? He calls for a more robust public debate about such questions, as part of a 'new citizenship'.
In Sandel’s latest book, The Case against Perfection, Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering (2007) he argues against the use of genetic engineering to create designer children, and suggests that the genetic revolution will force spiritual questions back onto the political agenda. His new book, Justice: What We Owe One Another as Citizens, will be published in the autumn. He is also the author of Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1997), Democracy's Discontent (1996), Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics (2005.
The lecture is 45 minutes long, is not taxing at all and is worth a listen.