In yesterday's post on wagers, I casually asserted that attempts to combine the sacred and the profane is fingers on a chalkboard for regular folks. In my haste, I neglected to support this claim. Here is that support.
Michael Sandel. What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
I think that even after you've read Sandel (and you should, he's as good as you're likely to get on the subject), you'll mostly agree with me that his claims are fundamentally aesthetic. But here's the difference you get with Sandel compared to a prototypical hand-wringing anti-capitalist: he makes normative claims about the extent of markets underpinned by rigorous positive aesthetic analysis. Whether Michael Sandel likes the idea of paying cash to see Shakespeare in the Park is not relevant to his argument, it's that he's (correctly, as far as I can tell) identified that ordinary people in their ordinary lives object to these sorts of arrangements.
Well, maybe ordinary folks don't care that much about Shakespeare per se, but let's not let that distract from the key point. Toddlers like their food touching about as much as grown-ups relish impersonal monetary transactions in deeply personal settings. We call it "tithing" and tell each other and ourselves that the geld goes to "God". Parishioner please. Economists are trained (and the good ones continue to hone this valuable skill) to peer through petticoats like these to the truth hidden beneath. We trade in sacred goods all the time, we just have a knack for calling it something else. TANSTAAFL.
A question then of values: the economist would have you swallow your discomfort, encourage you to simply and honestly acknowledge that incentives matter, that to get more of something you want, you must must must pay for it. The economist will also give you a laundry list of good, convincing reasons why impersonal voluntary exchange tends to be the most efficient way to trade. Hey-presto, job done, right? Everybody poops, so why just plainly and publicly acknowledge that and then get along with the business of business?
Or is this all just intolerably indecent? Am I a bad person for advocating for the legal (and marginally safer) trade in sexual services? Or for vigorous resale markets? I reject the notion that my own sentiments of disgust should be elevated to the realm of public policy; does this make me an ogre? Should I conform to the shared fib that denies that from all living buttocks emerge feces? Does that make for a better world? Is my position a minority one because it's just plain wrong? Prices are information, but maybe I'm totally wrong and it's sometimes more comfortable to dwell in ignorance.