There are still some things which money cannot buy
The idea that the pursuit of money can destroy the human capacity for good is not a new one. Stories about the evils of greed start with the fairytales we’re told as young children.
But there’s something about the arguments in Michael J Sandel’s new book, What Money Can’t Buy: the Moral Limits of Markets that shines a new and pretty shocking light on this ancient theme.
Sandel is an American philosophy professor, whose popular lectures are said to draw regular crowds. He aims to challenge the way we think about the place of money in society by questioning the way we place value on things.
He does this simply by making a list, of the extensive and sometimes shocking number of things that money really can buy us in the modern world. From the wombs of destitute Indian women, organs and citizenship, to weight loss, quit smoking programs and fast-tracking airport security.
Sandel says the act of paying for stuff like this corrupts the value, because allocating a price also expresses an attitude about the goods being exchanged. As Michael Ignatieff writes in his terrific summary of the book for The New Republic:
“Certain things of value - love, loyalty, friendship, honor - are corrupted when we try to put a price on them. Restoring the value of what is beyond price should go hand in hand, Sandel argues, with a politics of the public good, a good in common that is more than the maximized economic utility of solitary individuals.”
It’s heavy, sobering stuff that raises all sorts of questions about where we’re all headed from here. But at the same time, it makes it seem very important to remind ourselves of all the things, great and small that money can’t and won’t ever be able to buy.
Here’s our list, join in.
1. A good night’s sleep: No explanation required.
2. Peace of mind: You can knock yourself out with all sorts of drinks and pills but can’t buy “being alright with yourself” over the counter.
3. Forgiveness: Everybody has arguments with people they love and patching things up is not always easy, but you’ll never be able to put a price on saying sorry and actually meaning it.
4. A pair of socks that won’t get lost in the wash: But if anyone invents this we’ll pay anything.
5. True love: there are plenty of avenues for meeting potential love interests, but there’s no internet site that can tell you when you’re feeling the real stuff.
6. Morality: You can be taught right from wrong but nobody can pay to ensure that you exercise the distinction.
7. A pair of tweezers that you never lose: see socks, above.
8. Taste: A fistful of cash well get you an army of interior designers but at the end of the day you’ll still be buying somebody else’s idea of what looks good.
9. Your own style: Ditto to above, only this way you are buying somebody else’s ideal version of you.
10. Good weather: A private jet can take you all over the world at any time of year but you can never pay the weather gods to be eternally on your side.
11. Freedom from a hangover. You can delay it with all sorts of concoctions, but you’ll never really escape them.
12. Freedom from flight delays: This one goes hand in hand with the weather. The private jet can live in the hanger but you’re not going anywhere when the weather decides to sets in. And the people in first class take off at the same time the same time as economy.
13. Real friendship: The expression that you can only count the number of real friends on one hand applies here. Having a stack of cash might ensure there’s always a crowd around you, but only a handful will be there for everything but the free drinks.
14. Class: Like taste and style in the manners department, real class comes from the confidence of knowing yourself.
15. Intelligence: Money might buy you books and an education, but intelligence comes from the ability to question.
16. A stapler that works: Especially one that never gets jammed when you’re in a hurry.
17. Emotional intelligence: This one is open to debate, but I’ve always thought emotional intelligence springs from a combination of self-awareness, life experience and a sense of humour.
18. Looks: No amount of botox can compete with great genes. You either have them, or you don’t.
19. Reputation: A good reputation is earned but that’s got nothing to do with money and everything to do with being reliable, hardworking, honest and polite.
20. A mobile phone signal wherever you are: And we mean everywhere.
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