Society’s obsession with placing a price tag on everything – including the most sacred and intimate aspects of life – is socially corrosive, according to Harvard University Professor Michael Sandel, who delivered the annual Gannon Lecture. Sandel’s lecture “Are There Some Things Money Can’t Buy?: Markets, Morals and Civic Life,” focused on those areas of life he feels should be above and beyond the market of commodities – things such as sexual reproduction, military service and voting. “Certain things should not be bought and sold,” Sandel said. “Using the [market]is subjecting the reproductive process to modes of valuation that are not appropriate to the nature of the good. [The market] is treating children as commodities and women as factories.”
The Gannon Lecture brings distinguished individuals to Fordham to deliver public lectures in honor of the late Rev. Robert I. Gannon, S.J., president of Fordham from 1936-1949. Professor Sandel is an Oxford Rhodes Scholar who has published several books in recent years, including Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy and Liberalism and the Limits of Justice. Sandel said many people object to the marketplace being associated with human reproduction (sperm and egg selling, commercial surrogacy and baby selling) because of the economic gap between the rich and the poor.
Some fear the poor will be unfairly coerced by the necessity of their situation to sell what they otherwise would not. Sandel’s lecture went far beyond the commodification of sexual reproduction, as he also discussed how military service and voting are corrupted when the economic forces of the market are applied. “Military service is an obligation and to turn it into a commodity, a job for sale, is to deny its pure civic responsibility,” Sandel said. “If it’s all about the market, why shouldn’t the U.S. military be open to foreigners? Or, why shouldn’t it be liable to subcontractors and privatization?” Sandel said the market also works to the detriment of our political system.
He noted a Web site (www.voteauction.com) that enabled interest groups to pay registered voters for their votes in the 2000 presidential election. The site offered Florida voters $11.61 for their votes, and 540 Floridians took advantage of the offer, he said. This demonstrates that the 2000 presidential election was determined by money, he said. Sandel concluded his lecture with a plea to end this rampant commodification in society. “Freedom does not consist of the choices people make within the market,” Sandel said. “There are moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy.”