It was pouring down rain and my French friend, Thomas – I rather pronounce his as “Tom-A,” as he takes it quite seriously – and I were walking down Marylebone High Street. We were talking about the monetization of society, as one would normally do just before the New Year in London. Oh, and yes before I forget, happy new year. We were also discussing a book that we have both recently read: “What Money Can’t Buy” by Michael Sandel. Professor Sandel, who teaches at Harvard University and who is well known for his online course on Justice, argues that the dominating role of capital has shifted communities from having market economies to becoming market societies. Witnessing the rise of homelessness throughout Marylebone High Street, Thomas and I elaborate further on how society today functions through market laws. Some, who have dug into this, would even argue that society functions through the basic price law of supply and demand (or cost and benefit analysis).
The market, and its influential incentives, has not only attracted dreamers throughout the world to go to certain places to achieve but ‘capital’ has built states and societies from virtually nothing. Let’s be honest here, money motivates. Every state needs to liberate its market to grow and develop; the development of the economy would thus reenergize the state. Nonetheless, some would argue that liberalizing an economy would gradually transfer the society in which the economy has been liberalized to a market society. And a market society is what Thomas and I witnessed the other day. One question for you to consider: Imagine a moneyless world, or a world that is incentivized not through capital but through other nonmarket aims, what would it look like? China of the early 1960s, perhaps?
Michael Sandel’s “What Money Can’t Buy” portrays the transition from having a market economy to becoming a market society very well. In it, Sandel argues that market incentives have today replaced nonmarket values; everything seems to be commoditized – even ourselves! I mean, give it a small thought, why do many of us go to universities? Not very often do we see people go to universities to be enlightened, or to be taught to learn. Yes, I cannot agree more that we should value education for the learning it provides and not for the commodity it presents but let’s be realistic: a degree is one ingredient to future success – and success is measured by many of us through money. Capital constitutes greater importance today, and this has been obvious to both me and Thomas as it should to you.
Some would see the continuous monetization of society as a concern worth dissecting and treating; others would not. What both sides of the equation would perhaps agree on is the reality that capital is vastly and rapidly redefining social norms and values in society. The commodification of social norms, in other words, is increasing. London exemplifies this well; ask those who were here 50 years ago then take a walk down Marylebone High Street to witness the change. And, let me warn you beforehand, the change to be witnessed could be shocking.
By Bader Al-Dehani