Sunday, July 05, 2009

new citizenship/a new way of thinking

I’m currently reading Chris Sunderland’s book “The Dream that Inspired the Bible” and have been struck by the number of themes it shares with this year’s Reith Lectures given by Michael Sandel, Professor of Government at Harvard under the title “A New Citizenship”. Here are just a few quotes from Chris’s book and Professor Sandel’s lecture on “Markets and Morals”:
CS: “If young people today are asked about their dreams, many can only speak of fame”.
MS: “There’s now a widespread sense that markets have become detached from fundamental values, that we need to reconnect markets and values”.
MS: “A study of some Israeli childcare centres offers a good real world example of how market incentives can crowd out non-market norms. The centres faced a familiar problem - parents sometimes came late to pick up their children, and so a teacher had to stay with the children until the tardy parents arrived. To solve this problem, the childcare centres imposed a fine for late pick-ups. What do you suppose happened? Late pick-ups actually increased. Now if you assume that people respond to incentives, this is puzzling. You would expect, wouldn’t you, the fine to reduce, not increase the incidence of late pick-ups? So what happened? Introducing the fine changed the norms. Before, parents who came late felt guilty; they were imposing an inconvenience on the teachers. Now parents considered a late arrival a service for which they were willing to pay. Rather than imposing on the teacher, they were simply paying her to stay longer”.
MS: “Perhaps the best-known example of market norms eroding or crowding out non-market norms involves the case of blood donation. The sociologist Richard Titmuss compared the United States system, which permitted the buying and selling of blood for transfusion, with the system in the UK which banned financial incentives and relied wholly on donated blood. Titmuss found that rather than improve the quality and supply of blood, the commercialisation of blood led to shortages, inefficiencies and a greater incidence of contaminated blood. His explanation: putting a price on blood turned what had been a gift into a commodity. It changed the norms associated with blood donation. Once blood is bought and sold in the market, people are less likely to feel a moral obligation to give it out of altruism”.
CS: “The old way of thinking. Principle: the one thing that the world must pay attention to is market exchange. Wealth for all will follow if we get this right (primary values: money, property and self-interest)”.
CS: “The new way of thinking. Principle: we need to pay attention to the interconnected systems of the earth that sustains all life (primary values: energy, commonality and well-being)”.
MS: “One thing is clear: the better kind of politics we need is a politics oriented less to the pursuit of individual self-interest and more to the pursuit of the common good”.
I started scribbling some notes on this blog a few days ago, but noticed that it was also the subject of yesterday’s Leader column in The Guardian. This concluded that we should “heed Prof Sandel’s call to put the morality back into politics”.
Whilst I strongly agree with these sentiments, I also sense that we might need to put the morality back into humanity?
Photo: Chris Sunderland and Michael Sandel.
PS: Today’s “Something Understood” on Radio4 dealt with similar themes: “Buying and Selling”.

Note: Moira+I (and many others from around Bristol and beyond) have been involved with Chris over recent months following the launch of EarthAbbey – a Christian community dedicated to encouraging one another to journey towards a life more in tune with the earth.

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