catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The Reith Lectures, Michael Sandel on markets and morals

with 18 comments

Radio National just just broadcast the first of the 2009 BBC Reith Lectures by Michael Sandell. Sound and transcripts can be obtained via Here.

Sandel has a famous lecture course on Justice at Harvard University. He is a communitarian who has made a career out of finding fault with various kinds of liberalism on the grounds that they are based on “atomistic indivivdualism” which fails to take account of the social context. I am not aware of any liberal thinker whose case is damaged by his criticism.

The theme of the series is A New Citizenship and the first lecture is on “Markets and morals“.  It is soft and predictable stuff, based on the assumption that the last 30 years saw the dominance of “market fundamentalism” and deregulation. He claims that it is time to rethink the function of markets, not just to re-regulate but to open up a public debate on a “new citizenship”.

He seems to have a problem with for-profit schools, hospitals and security services. He has got a point about using cash incentives to get kids to read books.

But the fundamental point that he overlooks is that markets are things that happen whenever people buy, sell and swap stuff. They are not over-arching, inhuman entities that are somehow or other imposed on us. Markets are us!

As to the morality and the kind of incentives required to get better results, the keys to  the problems with markets in recent times are the monetary policy of the US Fed Reserve Bank, excessive volumes of regulation, inept regulators (and raters) and the perverse incentives generated by Big Government including the expectation of a buyout of stricken banks.

Written by Rafe

December 28, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

18 Responses

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  1. “Markets are us”?

    Strange, I know a lot of different people and absolutely none would relate to such a weird, alienated, dehumanizing statement.


    December 28, 2009 at 8:08 pm

  2. Because you misunderstand the statement, Cyd.
    Markets are comprised of voluntary transactions between people.
    They are not some artificial construct independent of us.
    Most of us participate in many market transactions in an average day. Our lives would be empty without them.

    Ken Nielsen

    December 28, 2009 at 8:34 pm

  3. Phil, do you shop at all? Do you compare prices and choose one supermarket over another for prices or convenience or better choice?

    That’s participating in a market.

    At the end of each week senior management of supermarkets know how well they are doing and decide strategy to outbid the competitors for more customers.

    That’s a market phil. There’s nothing dehumanizing about that, you nimrod. In fact it’s the opposite, it’s actually very human, as it shows that humans operate by processing information through their actions.

    You nimrod, phil, not even homer would say something so dumb.


    December 28, 2009 at 8:39 pm

  4. Phil/Cydney… The fact that you’re even posting leftist gibberish here means you’re indirectly working through the market process by choosing an ISP that unfortunately allows you to go to websites and post crap.

    In a way it is sorta dehumanizing… it’s dehumanizing for the rest of us having to endure the pseudo intellectual junk you post here and at other places.


    December 28, 2009 at 8:42 pm

  5. “Do you compare prices and choose one supermarket over another for prices or convenience or better choice?”

    Nope, never. And no-one I know does.


    December 28, 2009 at 9:45 pm

  6. How do you choose one supermarket over another, Cyds?


    December 28, 2009 at 9:49 pm

  7. According to the weather.


    December 28, 2009 at 9:51 pm

  8. If it’s raining or not I go to one. If it’s clear and sunny I go to another.


    December 28, 2009 at 9:53 pm

  9. Choice… it’s so dehumanizing, Cydney.

    So according to you, Cyds, you big brained mammal, the choice you make isn’t “dehumanizing” as you don’t consider it market determined.

    You freaking moron.


    December 28, 2009 at 9:58 pm

  10. Well it is hardly dehumanising if I refuse to follow inanimate price signals and instead follow the sun or the rain as it may be.


    December 28, 2009 at 10:00 pm

  11. They are not over-arching, inhuman entities that are somehow or other imposed on us. Markets are us!

    Exactly so, as I tried to point out to those spruiking the ETS carbon “market” here a few weeks ago. Markets are part of – indeed, constitute – the spontaneous, primordial order vis-a-vis the relationships people build (with one another) to effect their desire to produce, buy and sell real things in a mutually beneficial way. Calling an unwanted state-concocted policing action against a harmless gas a “pure market” is an Orwellian travesty that bastardises not only the English language but the very philosophy inhering in this blog’s name.


    December 28, 2009 at 10:07 pm

  12. Cydney, you impeachable fool. You are doing exactly what is expected of human behavior when participating in markets. You are CHOOSING as a result of the utility benefits one choice brings over another.

    What is dehumanizing is you oppressive stupidity, Cyds. That’s what’s dehumanizing.

    Here’s a new word that describes your participation on this blog.

    “Rectumaniacal” which a stupid argument that one pulls out of one’s arse.


    December 28, 2009 at 10:08 pm

  13. I have no idea what your last incoherent wannabe squib means jc and I doubt any sane person does.

    What I do know is I don’t participate in markets when I shop according to your rules.

    If it’s sunny I go to one place, if it’s raining I go to another.

    That’s about it.

    Nothing to do with comparing prices or such boring nonsense.


    December 28, 2009 at 10:12 pm

  14. Cyd would walk past a $3 bottle of milk at a gloomy store to buy a $100 bottle of milk at a sunny store. Seals and baboons don’t behave this way.


    December 28, 2009 at 10:21 pm

  15. Cydney, you rectomanical moron. Price may not influence you to a degree (as that is “unhuman”). However weather does, meaning you’re making a choice which also falls under the concept of utility.

    now STFU and go away.


    December 28, 2009 at 10:25 pm

  16. Seals and baboons are smarter than Cydney, CL.

    I think Cydney was clubbed in the head when s/he was a child, suffered brain damage and hasn’t recovered since.


    December 28, 2009 at 10:27 pm

  17. cyd still seems to be participating in the market. he just has weird preferences. if enough people had his preferences then maybe the supermarkets would try to adjust the weather or figure out how to be the sunny supermarket.


    December 29, 2009 at 1:04 pm

  18. Duck:

    Cydney is just a rectomaniac (pulling arguments out his or her arse).


    December 29, 2009 at 1:11 pm

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