Michael Sandel

Michael Sandel, the Harvard political philosopher, talked this evening about the topic of his most recent book on the subject of What Money Can’t Buy:  the moral limits of markets, first published in 2012 and based on his Reith Lectures.   It was an amazing performance, using the Socratic method (now the Harvard method) of using the audience to vote and then argue about moral issues.   The first one was whether or not the city of Detroit faced by bankruptcy should plunder the pension payments of long-standing city employees or sell works from the Detroit Institute of Fine Arts.   The vote was split.   The argument was fierce and articulate about what value should be placed on works of art and to what extent they can, and should, be treated as commodities.   The second issue was the extent to which citizenship should be available for purchase to the highest bidder, a case study from his book.   Again there was rich discussion.   It hardly needed the concluding remarks about the impoverishment of public discourse;  and the alienation which results from the dependence of economists on markets as an instrument to determine the allocation of public goods.