Michael Sandel, in his excellent book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets points to the fact that more and more things are salable and buyable in our culture. Things that in the past were not monetized and were outside of commercial markets and now available to purchase. He gives many examples such as children being paid to read books, and people paid to wait on line for someone else. It is also possible now to purchase the right to pollute, to gain US citizenship, and be admitted to an elite university.
For Sandel, a troubling effect of moving from having a market economy to being a market society is that people without money are further marginalized, and cannot get what they need to survive. In essence, purchase power solidifies economic stratification and broadens disparity.
The Catholic Pope Francis makes similar comments in his “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), which was released last week. Pope Francis warns that, “Sometimes we prove hard of heart and mind; we are forgetful, distracted and carried away by the limitless possibilities for consumption and distraction offered by contemporary society.”
As Sandel points out, those who are left out of participating in the market society, because they are not consumer, are marginalized. While Pope Francis points to that as well, and to the strong Christian belief in supporting the poor, he also discusses how those of us who are able to buy and sell in the market economy are also trapped. We are distracted by our own desires and valued only as consumers.
Both Sandel and Pope Francis advocate changing our current economic systems. Sandel hopes that we will reinstate some moral limits on the markets and Pope Francis hopes we will turn toward God, help the poor, and reduce our consumption.
Pope Francis exhorts us to “generous solidarity” in order to “help respect and promote” the poor. Giving more money away, to make a real difference in our world, will also free us from the traps of consumerism. So what can you do on this Giving Tuesday?
- Consider not purchasing holiday gifts, or at least not purchasing as many.
- Instead make something, give something immaterial like a foot massage, or write something personal to those you love.
- Reallocate your gift budget to charitable donations.
- Or give donations in someone’s name – and let that be your gift to them. Almost any charitable organization will help you do this.
Participate in Giving Tuesday and make at least one donation today. You will not only be helping to make this a better world, you will be setting an example to others, and freeing yourself – whether from uncaring economic systems or distractions from God.