Morality of Markets

I’ve previously introduced Michael Sandel’s lectures on Justice in Harvard. I haven’t finished the series despite great interest in it but I recently watched another of his lectures, one at Chautauqua where he talks about the Morality of Markets. In some sense, I was particularly interested in this issue and believe that all those trained in Economics should be made to study it. After all, Adam Smith was a Moral Philosopher. The philosophical element of Economics is becoming lost in our study of it today.

Markets Corrupts?

That is what makes this particular Michael Sandel lecture extremely insightful. He starts with the idea that we’re now plagued by market triumphalism and he tries to question what is wrong with that. As often in his lectures, he poses a scenario either hypothetical or based on actual proposals in the real world and then solicits opinions from the audience. He eventually surfaces his points and ideas from the responses of the audience and does a brilliant summary of the issue.

He gives a good and important point in his conclusion of this lecture that explains why we should not allow markets to expand indefinitely in our lives. In other words, there are areas where markets can, indeed serve the best interests of the societies especially when we all can agree that the market system gives an accurate and fair valuation of the good or service involved. Unfortunately there are values out of the consideration of the market that we might cherish and therefore we should not allow particular goods or services to become commodities to be traded and transacted. The danger of the markets is that it leaves its mark on the commodities that are traded; the values that we cherish becomes diluted, corrupted by the market system.

The example of paying a child to read is important in illustrating this. We should cherish reading not because of the monetary gains but the intrinsic value derived from joy of reading and learning. Therefore when we start paying children to read, it sends out the wrong messages and distorts the valuation of reading. The trick then, perhaps is a solution around this limitation of the market, to be able to remove that mark that market leaves on the thing traded. Unfortunately there’s no easy solution and possibly none. This is a strong argument against markets and while it is applied to a small group of tricky issues, they are worth pondering over.

Michael Sandel makes Political Philosophy and Moral Philosophy not only accessible to the public and ordinary, non-philosophy students but also makes extremely relevant connections between traditional Western Philosophy and the issues plaguing us in the modern world. It’s really fortunate that we are able to access his lectures even though we are not studying in Harvard or in America. There are other videos of his public lectures available on

Just Reading

Father of Kantian Ethics

Just last week, I was recommending that you view lectures on Academic Earth if you find not academic enough; this week we’re recommending just one video for your weekend. It’s going to be pretty intriguing and I’m sure you’d be glad to be an audience. Recently, Michael Sandel, a political philosopher, lectured on ‘Justice’ in Harvard and his lectures are available online at Youtube! Sandel begins his first lecture with the hypothetical scenario involving a moral dilemma that some of you might be familiar with and got his students thinking about moral reasoning. Sandels issued his ‘warning’ for students of Moral/Political Philosophy:

Philosophy teaches us and unsettles us by confronting us with what we already know; there’s an irony, the difficulty of this course consist the fact that it teaches what you already know. It works by taking what we already know from familiar unquestioned settings and making it strange. […] Once the familiar turns strange, it is never quite the same again.

Sandel also gave a good reply to the doctrine of Skepticism, suggesting that we should not give up moral reasoning just because the ancient and modern philosophers are unable to solve them; in fact, the continual emergence of the same old problems require that we constantly revisit these questions. He cites Kant’s remarks about skepticism; Kant describes skepticism as a temporary resting place for the mind from reasoning – that skepticism can never triumph the restlessness of reasoning.

The lectures gives us too much to think about so I strongly suggests that you take a step at a time and limit yourself to just an hour of the video each day.

New Mail

More Boxes!
More Boxes!

This week’s package of video, audio and reads is a little more on the lighter side, starting with a short 3-minute talk by Dr Laura Trice about asking for praise. After that you might like to listen to Dan Ariely‘s talk on our buggy moral code, a topic I’ve always been interested in.

In news, you might be encouraged to understand that Genius and talent is overrated and social forces can manipulate the motivations to create genius sheerly through encouragement as argued by Steven Levitt in SuperFreakonomics.

I’ll like to take the chance to introduce Knowledge@Wharton, which offers high quality content as well as podcast on economics and business issues of the day. You might like to listen about questions posed on Net Neutrality.

Once again, enjoy your weekends!