Work and Dignity   /   Fall 2012   /    Book Forum

An Alternative Economy

Juliet B. Schor

Only ideologues and scoundrels welcome the world in which we now find ourselves. Being neither, I find myself in sympathy with Michael Sandel’s concerns in What Money Can’t Buy. Purchasing power is increasingly held in the hands of a few, whose resources allow them to dominate a wide range of allocations, from scarce seats at entertainments to health care to human organs. I understand the dynamic somewhat differently than a markets-versus-morals clash, or what Viviana Zelizer called the “hostile worlds” thesis, because I lay more stress on the role of inequality than the market. After all, there are many types of markets, operating under a wide range of rules and practices. And the expansion of inequality began in the 1970s, predating the marketizing thrust of neo-liberalism.

In my view, the growing concentration of income, wealth, and power is the driving force behind the undermining of more egalitarian allocations. The latter include the strictly equal distributions of time (each person has 24 hours per day), body (each person has one), voting (again, a per capita allocation), and human rights (in theory guaranteed for all, in practice not fully so). In this view, marketization occurs because the excess money and assets of privileged agents seek new outlets that are incompletely or not at all monetized. These include time, bodily labors or sale of body parts, and political rights. In such a scenario, it is difficult to build a moral firewall without redressing the mal-distribution of assets.

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