Friday, August 3, 2012

Money Can Buy Me Love

Karl Marx
In a review of Michael J. Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy and Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky’s How Much is Enough? entitled, “The Old Adam” (TLS, 7/13/12), Ferdinand Mount quotes some not unsurprising details about the commodification of human existence from the Sandel tome. “Companies and nations buy and sell the right to pollute. Pregnancy is outsourced for cash to surrogate mothers…The United States has a system of campaign finance that comes close to permitting elections to be bought and sold…you can buy a prison cell upgrade for $82 a night. For $150,000 in South Africa you can buy the right to shoot an endangered black rhino…In overcrowded Chinese hospitals, there is a hot market in appointment tickets…In the U.S. you can buy the life insurance policy of an ailing old person, pay the premiums and then collect when he or she dies.” Mount takes Sandel to task for many things including leaving out mention of the world’s oldest profession, a form of commodification that is not part of any historical trend. But while there are thousands of examples of economic impertinence throughout history, there is no doubt that Sandel is on to something. Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things dramatized the trading in human organs, a growing illicit business that is a way of selling the human body in part rather than bulk. It’s the equivalent of the kind of real estate, cemeteries and parking lots, that profits by dividing up larger spaces. Speaking of cemeteries, death is without a doubt a growth industry, with every aspect of one’s arrangements being blessed or cursed by the market economy, depending on supply and demand for your hospice, casket or plot. The whole economics of Facebook is an attempt to monetize human interaction itself. Man is a social animal, but social networking has literally created a market in the need for solace. And isn’t the growth in financial instruments, that never existed thirty years ago, a testament to the creativity of the human mind in finding new ways to capitalize even on capital? 

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