Michael J. Sandel, a professor of government at Harvard, has written an insightful book called What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (2012) about the “for-sale” sign that applies to almost everything that has value, from sky boxes in football stadiums to police cars in local communities. These days, everything seems to be fair game. For example, a woman allowed her forehead to be tattooed with a brand name for $10,000. Even the tattoo artist tried to talk her out of it.
Are there any moral limits on what corporations can buy, and what the public is willing to sell? Have we entered a great divide where corporate sponsors sit in heated sky boxes while the rest of us shiver during a heavy snow fall at a football game? Are we losing that sense of community of shared experiences?
Sandel summarizes the problem as follows: “Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of everyday life. This is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.”
Somewhere along the way we (as a community, state and nation) have to decide whether we will continue to be polarized or whether we will work together for the common good. How we make that decision will determine our fate over the next several decades.