The Achilles’ heel of the neo-liberal project, and a prime prop in our now crumbling capitalist system, is a naïve faith in the infallibility of money and markets as key motivators of economic and social action.
Despite the benefits of a grammar school education, our new prime minister clearly remains a devotee of this money/market faith, and is losing no time in extending its seductive influence to the reluctant luddites still blind to the benefits of ‘fracking’ around their homes and gardens.
She might do well to read, and circulate around the Cabinet table, a small 2010 Penguin book by Michael Sandel called “What Money Can’t Buy – The Moral Limits of Markets”, which would explain to them all why the recourse to bribes is counter-productive in such circumstances.
“A growing body of research confirms what common-sense suggests: financial incentives and other market mechanisms can backfire by crowding out non-market norms. Sometimes, offering payment for a certain behaviour gets you less of it, not more”.
He gives the case study of the Swiss mountain village, coping with the unwelcome need to site a nuclear waste facility nearby. A bare ( 51%) majority were reluctantly cajoled in its favour; but adding an annual financial incentive cut the level of acceptance in half (51% to 25%). They were reluctantly willing to accept the imposition out of their sense of duty, but the offer of cash to residents felt like a bribe, which was too high a price to ask. “The intrusion of market norms crowded out their sense of civic duty”, Sandel explains.
Money for fracking is, of course, a double offence against our better civic selves. The intrusion of alien market norms is further compounded by the deliberate incentive to flout our collective and individual commitments to phase out fossil fuels and control carbon pollution.
Even in the 2016 UK, maybe not everything should yet be up for sale.