In this book Michael Sandel explores the belief that money can buy everything. He asks us to confront our acceptance, and also our revulsion, at the control that money and business interests have on our way of life.
Sandel takes the reader through a brief history of the insurance business, which began as a system to protect our expensive goods, allowing us to replace our dwelling, should the house burn down; or gain compensation should our ship sink, rather than come in. If you, like me, are ignorant enough to think that this is where the business is today, you are in for a rude surprise: old people are being paid to take out insurance policies, which are taken over by companies who pay the premiums, in the hope that the insured person dies quickly, giving them a decent profit. The banking system has even bought in to this concept and, along with sub prime mortgages, one can buy shares in the death industry.
Sandel also investigates the changing policies of the advertising industry. A few years ago advertisements would appear on television, in the press and occasional street posters. Nowadays, even in conservative Britain, adverts pop up in all sorts unlikely places and this book shows where we are likely to be in the future.
My football team already plays at the King Power Stadium, which had been known as the Walkers Stadium, until more money was offered for the naming rights. Apparently, a police car, in the metropolis, apprehends miscreants under the sponsorship of Harrods and many town centres have an over-sized television in their square, ostensibly to show major events but in reality, to put a string of banal advertisements in front of the general public. America, so often mocked from this side of the Atlantic for being more extreme, but in reality, simply ahead of we Brits, has taken advertising to another level: schools, in some states, are given televisions and other equipment with the proviso that all the pupils watch a fifteen minute news programme each day: needless to say, the recording is peppered with adverts, probably for the soft drinks company that has purchased exclusive rights to supply the school tuck shop. Mr Sandel even cites the case of one lady, a single mother, who sold her forehead as an advertising site to provide sustenance for her child. At the age of thirty, she was tattooed with an advertising slogan.
Some of the examples, in this book, I found to be acceptable, some deeply shocking but, Michael Sandel keeps a very tight control upon his own feelings. Reading the book, one does get some idea of his personnel opinions but, even in the most extreme cases, he does not criticise, but simply reports. It would be easy for a work such as this, to slip into the, 'Things are terrible now, unlike the good old days' attitude: Sandel does not. He does his readership the honour of assuming that, given the facts, they are capable of making up their own minds. This is a book that everybody should read. The more people that are aware of the direction of travel, the better can be our control of the type of society that 'Big Business' builds and, let us be honest, it is business, not politicians, that will shape the twenty first century.