Monday, May 14, 2012

Thomas Friedman, Michael Sandel & Sky Boxes

Thomas Friedman considers Michael Sandel's arguments fron Sandel's new book, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. I write about it for three points:

 1. Friedman points out this observation by Sandel that bears repeating & consideration:
Sandel sees them [intrusion of commercial advertising into almost all areas of life] as signs of a bad trend: “Over the last three decades,” he states, “we have drifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society. A market economy is a tool — a valuable and effective tool — for organizing productive activity. But a ‘market society’ is a place where everything is up for sale. It is a way of life where market values govern every sphere of life.”
This is an important distinction. Markets allow information to travel across diverse & unconnected users and distribute assets with an efficiency that eludes any central planner. (Hayek here.) But this cultural trend goes way beyond that, making us consumers and not citizens. A very big and important difference to my mind.

 2. Sky boxes. When in college, I gave a ride the hometown radio folks from the airport to Kinnick Stadium to broadcast the Hawkeye-Cyclone game, the first such game in about three decades. Anyway, I went to the press box, up high, very nice, but I couldn't stay. The electricity and fun of the game was in the stands with my fellow students. I couldn't scream, curse, chant, or do victory dances in the the press box! Now, they have sky boxes, antiseptic glass booths for the well-heeled to make appearances and schmooze. I don't envy those folks, I kind of feel badly for them. If you come to a public event such as a Hawkeye football game, come for the communal experience, not to be isolated. I think that the commercialization of big-time (read football & men's basketball) college athletics appears to me more and more a mistake. Anyway, my rant seems apropos of Sandel's more sophisticated thoughts. Another book for my reading list.

 3. One more thing: would the United State of America have survived and flourished without civic virtue practices by the Founders? These men were not angels or demi-gods; they had their material sides, but they were motivated by ideals as well, ideals in part from the tradition of civic republicanism. (The book to read to get a sense of this: Garry Wills' Cincinnatus: George Washington & the Enlightenment.)

Garry Wills on Christianity & Marriage

In the NYRB blog, Wills gives a brief but eye-opening history of marriage in the Christian tradition. He wrote this in light of Obama's recent endorsement of gay marriage and the continuing debate in this country about that. (Obama, of course, following Joe Biden on this!) The blog speaks for itself, but beyond the issue of gay marriage, it's a reminder that all human institutions have a history and are marked by change. We only know of the passage of time because of change. We have to understand that all human institutions, including religious institutions and beliefs, change with time. Fortunately, most now agree that the slavery, polygamy, and genocide favorably referenced in the Bible are wrong. This is, of course, a historical development. We need to consider how core messages worth keeping can be separated from the baggage of past human cultures that we can no longer endorse. Gay marriage is such an example.