from David Ruccio
Both Michael Sandel and Deirdre McCloskey treat market morality as a very trivial thing, and easily understood.
For Sandel, market morality is based on the idea that “some of the good things in life are degraded if turned into commodities.” Therefore, “the market” should be circumscribed and delimited according to community norms and values. McCloskey’s view, per contra, is that “the market” is responsible for tremendous economic growth, and especially for the decline in world poverty. Her version of market morality is to encourage the flourishing of markets, anywhere and everywhere.
The problem is, both market moralists—Sandel and McCloskey—treat markets in an abstract fashion, as “the market.” Neither wants to discuss different kinds of markets: slave markets, capitalist markets, communist markets, and so on. And therefore neither wants to recognize the fact that the different consequences of markets depend, at least in part, on how market commodities are produced.
Once we move beyond the idea of the abstract market—and thus the idea that market morality is a very trivial thing, and easily understood—we can begin to talk about the conditions and consequences of capitalist commodity production. The Sandels of the world would then have to confront the moral consequences of a large part of humanity being forced to have the freedom to sell their ability to work to the tiny minority who appropriate the surplus they produce. And the McCloskeys of the world would have to move beyond their moral defense of the origins of bourgeois virtues to consider the contemporary implications of the buying and selling of “fictitious commodities” such as labor, land, and money.
McCloskey is correct in chiding Sandel for wanting to undo the fundamental “‘unfairness’ of charging for Shakespeare tickets in Central Park.” There certainly is something more important at stake. But McCloskey, for her part, fails to recognize the continued existence of poverty in the midst of plenty—or the fact that those on top, in the name of bourgeois virtue, brought the world economy to the brink of disaster and continue to impose the costs of capitalist recovery on the rest of the population.
No, in contrast to the views of both Sandel and McCloskey, market morality is not a trivial thing, easily understood. To quote that nineteenth-century Moor, “Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.”