Economics Philosophy Politics

Markets and morality

Professor Michael Sandel Reith Lectures 2009
Professor Michael Sandel Reith Lectures 2009

I am listening to the 2009 Reith Lectures – the prospects of a new politics of the common good. How do you create a better society? Kudos to my Ma who sent me this link, following on from a very interesting discussion last night.

A New Citizenship – Professor Michael Sandel

Conventional economic reasoning would suggest that if you want to create a certain behaviour, you create an incentive for that behaviour. Self interest is the name of the game; you either give a reward good behaviour, or you set a fine for bad. Makes sense? The problem is that what starts off as an incentive quickly becomes the norm. Market incentives quickly crowd out other norms, such as social norms of morality.

A child that is given a dollar to read a book quickly sees reading not of value to him or her, but a way to make money. A parent that is fined for picking up their child from school late will start treating the fine as a fee payable to the teacher for looking after their child. In the wider world, the carbon emission trading scheme of the Kyoto protocol was designed to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, some of the worst polluters and environmentally negligent nations are some of the richest, and can easily buy their way out of their obligations.

This is really a fascinating listen. I am looking forward to the next lecture, but quite depressed by what I am finding out.

The Trap – Adam Curtis

Adam Curtis has made a television series on a similar theme, The Trap, how attempts to engineer and regulate society through economics have weird and terrible consequences.

Game theory is a dangerous and broken model for human interaction; a system driven by suspicion and self- interest does result in an equilibrium, but at what cost?