Home » American Morals Are “For Sale … To Highest Bidder!” As Capitalism Laughs At Equality
Q4: Prosperity

American Morals Are “For Sale … To Highest Bidder!” As Capitalism Laughs At Equality

Yes, Capitalism Really is Working … For Billionaires!

Yes, capitalism really is working … for the Forbes Global Billionaires! Their ranks swelled from 322 in 2000 to 2,093 in 2020, adding max 233 in a year. Total net worth: Over $8 trillion. And Credit Suisse Bank says that at today’s accelerating rate we’ll have 11 trillionaire families by 2100, the end of this century. Seriously, trillionaire families! Moreover, today, a mere 67 billionaires have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion half of the world. Meanwhile, the income of the average American worker has stagnated for a generation since the Reagan trick-down era a generation ago.

Yes, capitalism is “working” … for billionaires … but for the vast majority of the world, however, capitalism is an economic disaster … capitalism is blowing a massive “inequality bubble”… destined to implode, self-destruct, everybody!

All across the world, over one billion live on less than two dollars a day. In his Capital in the Twenty-First Century, economist Thomas Piketty warns, this inequality gap is toxic, dangerous. As global population explodes from 8 billion to 10 billion by 2050, food production will deteriorate. No wonder Pope Francis warns: “Inequality is the root of social ills,” fueling more poverty, hunger, wars, revolutions.

For years we’ve been asking: Why does the capitalist brain blindly drive down this irrational path of self-destruction? We found someone who brilliantly explains why free market capitalism is hell-bent on destroying itself and the world along with it: Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the new best-seller, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets and his earlier classic, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?

America’s New Moral Compass:
That “Market Economy” is Now A “Market Society!”

For more than three decades Sandel’s been teaching us why capitalism is undermining human morality … and why we keep denying this insanity. Why do we bargain away our moral soul? His classes number over a thousand. You can even take his course online free. He even summarized capitalism’s takeover of America’s conscience in “What Isn’t for Sale?” in The Atlantic. Listen:

“Without being fully aware of the shift, Americans have drifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society … where almost everything is up for sale … a way of life where market values seep into almost every sphere of life and sometimes crowd out or corrode important values, nonmarket values.” Here’s a short summary:

“The years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 were a heady time of market faith and deregulation — an era of market triumphalism,” says Sandel. “The era began in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclaimed their conviction that markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom.” And in the 1990s with the “market-friendly liberalism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who moderated but consolidated the faith that markets are the primary means for achieving the public good.”

So today, “almost everything can be bought and sold.” Today “markets, and market values, have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us,” says Sandel. Over the years, “market values were coming to play a greater and greater role in social life. Economics was becoming an imperial domain. Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone. It increasingly governs the whole of life.”

How a “Not-So-Free” Market  Manipulates Your Morals

Yes, it’s everywhere: “Markets to allocate health, education, public safety, national security, criminal justice, environmental protection, recreation, procreation, and other social goods unheard of 30 years ago. Today, we take them largely for granted.”

PUBLIC SERVICES … for-profit schools, hospitals, prisons … outsourcing war to private contractors … police forces by private guards “almost twice the number of public police officers” … drug “companies aggressive marketing of prescription drugs directly to consumers, a practice … prohibited in most other countries.”
ADVERTISEMENTS: in “public schools … busses … corridors … cafeterias … naming rights to parks and civic spaces … blurred boundaries, within journalism, between news and advertising … marketing of ‘designer’ eggs and sperm … buying and selling … the right to pollute … campaign finance … comes close to permitting buying and selling of elections.”
INVESTING: “The financial crisis did more than cast doubt on the ability of markets to allocate risk efficiently. It also prompted a widespread sense that markets have become detached from morals.” Then comes the big question: So what? “Why worry that we are moving toward a society in which everything is up for sale?” There’s much more, says Sandel.
CORRUPTION: “Putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them … markets don’t only allocate goods, they express and promote certain attitudes toward the goods being exchanged.” Also “corrupt the meaning of citizenship. Economists often assume that markets … do not affect the goods being exchanged. But this is untrue. Markets leave their mark.”
INEQUALITY: “Where everything is for sale, life is harder for those of modest means.” If wealth just bought things, yachts, sports cars, and fancy vacations, inequalities wouldn’t matter much. “But as money comes to buy more and more, the distribution of income and wealth looms larger.”

Morals Just “Commodities For Sale to Highest Bidder”

Sandel warns that America’s new capitalist mindset is crowding out “nonmarket values worth caring about. When we decide that certain goods may be bought and sold,” they become “commodities, as instruments of profit and use.” But “not all goods are properly valued in this way … Slavery was appalling because it treated human beings as a commodity, to be bought and sold at auction,” failing to “value human beings as persons, worthy of dignity and respect; it sees them as instruments of gain and objects of use.”

Nor do we permit “children to be bought and sold, no matter how difficult the process of adoption can be.” The same with citizenship … jury duty … voting rights … “we believe that civic duties are not private property but public responsibilities. To outsource them is to demean them, to value them in the wrong way.” Many things should never be commodities.

Sandel’s core message is simple: “The good things in life are degraded if turned into commodities. So to decide where the market belongs, and where it should be kept at a distance, we have to decide how to value the goods in question — health, education, family life, nature, art, civic duties, and so on. These are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones.”

Unfortunately, we never had that debate during the 30-year rise of “market triumphalism. As a result, without quite realizing it — without ever deciding to do so — we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.” And “the difference is this: A market economy is a tool … for organizing productive activity. A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor. It’s a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market.” The difference is profound.

Not only did the debate never happen. It may never. Why? Because now politicians aren’t up to debating values, so are pushing us past the point of no return. Today’s “political argument consists mainly of shouting matches on cable television, partisan vitriol on talk radio, and ideological food fights on the floor of Congress,” says Sandel. So “it’s hard to imagine a reasoned public debate about such controversial moral questions as the right way to value procreation, children, education, health, the environment, citizenship, and other goods.”

Capitalism Pushed Past Moral “Point-Of-No-Return!”

Can we change back? “The appeal of using markets to put a price on public values, is that there’s no judgment on the preferences they satisfy.” Debate is unnecessary. Markets don’t “ask whether some ways of valuing goods are higher, or worthier, than others. If someone is willing to pay for sex, or a kidney … the only question the economist asks is ‘How much?’ Markets … don’t discriminate between worthy preferences and unworthy ones.”

This much is guaranteed: Capitalism is eliminating moral values. As Sandel puts it: “Each party to a deal decides for him- or herself what value to place on the things being exchanged. This nonjudgmental stance toward values lies at the heart of market reasoning, and explains much of its appeal.” But unfortunately, market capitalism has also “exacted a heavy price … drained public discourse of moral and civic energy.”

In the Reagan era S&L scandals a generation ago, over a 1,000 bankers went to jail as felons. Today politicians protect crooked bankers. No Wall Street executives prosecuted for fraud after 2008’s massive losses. Now Congress simply chastises them before “clawing back” millions from their excessive pay. But no jail time.

The good professor is a great teacher, with one glaring flaw, he’s too idealistic, too quixotic. You don’t have to be a fatalist to know that without a catastrophic economic collapse, free-market capitalists —the world’s 1,826 billionaires, Wall Street bankers and corporate CEOs, hedge managers, lobbyists and every other special interest getting rich off consumerism and the new “Market Society” — will never voluntarily surrender their control over the American political system. Rather, they will blindly continue down their self-destructive path with a bizarre conviction they are somehow “divinely” guided by the “Invisible Hand” of Ayn Rand’s “mutant capitalism” and America’s insatiable consumerism.

Meanwhile, we have no choice but to wait patiently till the collapse, anxiously aware that our bizarre political system will just keep degrading America’s moral values, pricing, buying, selling, trading morals like commodities, because in the final analysis, everything has a price and everyone has a price in our hot new exciting Market Society.

About the author

Paul B. Farrell

Dr Paul is a Behavioral Economist reporting on the science, psychology and politics of climate change and its impact on our culture, morals and vision of the future. For over seventeen years his columns were published on DowJones MarketWatch.com, which he joined as an editor when originally launched as a joint venture of CBS-News and The Financial Times. He published 1,643 columns between 1997 and 2015, and was their #1 traffic-generating columnist.

Over the years Dr Paul also published ten best-sellers, including The Millionaire Code: 16 Paths to Wealth Building ... The Winning Portfolio: Choosing Your 10 Best Mutual Funds ... Meditation Secrets of the Flawed Buddhas ... Expert Investing on The Net: Profit From the Top-25 Online Money Makers ... The Lazy Person's Guide to Investing ... Zen Millionaire: The Investor's Guide to the Other Side ... and most recently, HotEarthHell: The (New) Master Algorithm, a 2018 selection of his 33 best DowJones-MarketWatch columns on the economic impact of climate change and global warming.

Earlier he was an investment banker with Morgan Stanley ... Executive Vice President of the Financial News Network ... and Associate Editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. Back in the 1990s, he edited and published FNX: The Future News Index, an online investment newsletters for stock traders and forerunner for today's HotEarthHELLO! The Investors Climate Survival Guide.

He has the Doctorate in Psychology, Juris Doctor, Masters in Regional Planning and Bachelor of Architecture. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Staff Sergeant in aviation radar-computer technology.