Karela Fry

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What money can’t buy

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A book review in Literary Review has interesting bits of information:

At the Plough and Stars in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I once heard an Irish banjo-player fly into a rage at someone’s refusal to stand him a ninth drink. ‘I play me music for nothin’,’ he explained. ‘And what do I get for it? Fock all!’ Maybe Michael Sandel, who teaches government at Harvard, just down the street, has met him. Sandel’s new book, What Money Can’t Buy, describes a confusion that is widespread even among policymakers and other putatively sober people: what should we do only out of love or duty, and what should we expect to get paid for?

There are still things money can’t buy, but the list gets shorter all the time. Walmart takes out insurance on the lives of its workers. New York theatre-goers hire professional queuers to collect free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. Some right-wing lady in the American South is offering drug-addicted mothers $300 to get sterilised. A ghoulish ‘viatical’ business arose in the 1980s to buy life insurance policies from late-stage Aids sufferers. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg granted Snapple a monopoly on the city’s public-school juice concession. Advertising can now be bought in lifts and public toilets, and on house facades, aeroplane tray-tops, and police-car doors. And Sandel doesn’t even mention the carpenters’ union in Washington, DC, that hires unemployed people to do its picketing.

Sandel is fascinated by situations in which money incentives backfire, leaving you with less of what you thought you were paying for. When an Israeli childcare centre decided to impose fines on parents coming late to pick up their children, late pickups increased. Clients understood the fine as a fee, the payment of which absolved them from any discomfort about lateness. When residents in the Swiss town of Wolfenschiessen were offered cash incentives of more than £5,000 to accept a toxic waste dump, support for the project fell from 51 per cent to 25 per cent. When the American Association of Retired Persons asked lawyers to provide legal services to pensioners for the discount rate of $30 an hour, they refused, although the same lawyers were willing to provide the same work for free.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

June 19, 2012 at 5:21 pm

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