Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reith Lectures 2009: Prof Michael Sandel

The Reith Lectures this year are on the subject of A New Citizenship. Prof Michael Sandel attempts to make sense of the market crisis and political responses to it. He notes that there is a great frustration with politicians and a need to rejuvenate public discourse so that it reflect interest in the common good and debates about moral and spiritual questions rather than the behavior of politicians.

Lecture 1: Markets and Morals was given yesterday on Radio 4 and will be available for several more days.

Prof Sandel argues in the first lecture that a politics of the common good requires reflection on what it means to be a citizen. What would a morally engaged public life be like? We need to address the role of markets and in particular the moral limits of markets. Presently we are living in a time when market triumphalism has given way to a new market skepticism. Market need to be reconnected to values.

Its not a question of reigning in greed. The alternative is to rethink the reach of markets into spheres where they don't belong. We need to recognise that there are some things that money can't buy. For example, we have seen the proliferation of public schools, the outsourcing of war to private contractors, the increase of private guards, the aggressive marketing of drugs in the media and the notion that school results can be achieved by paying children to read or the outsourcing of refugees to various nations. But refugees are not revenue sources. They are humans in peril. Marketing norms leave their mark and erode non-marketing values.

What's wrong with paying the child to read a book? Marketing is not an innocent motivation. The monetary incentive undermines the moral value of reading. Reading books is not a matter of making money. It is a benefit of a different worth.

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