Fire Sale

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

Perhaps each of the seven deadly sins must have its day, politically. “Lust is good” might have been the rallying cry of the 1960s and ’70s counterculture. Twenty-five years ago Gordon Gekko announced mock-earnestly in Wall Street that “greed is good,” ratifying the Reagan Revolution and boosting the morale of the one percent. Let us hope that an Age of Envy will dawn soon. American society today needs nothing more urgently than a growing conviction among the bottom half or two-thirds of the population that the gross economic inequality currently prevailing is unfair, undesirable, and unnecessary.

As the great theorist of nonviolence Gene Sharp has pointed out (and Antonio Gramsci before him, and David Hume before both of them), every society—not only democracies—rests on consent. “Acceptance” or “resignation” may actually be a less misleading term—“consent” implies an active, explicit affirmation, whereas all Sharp, Gramsci, and Hume meant is that if the large majority of a population ever became sufficiently fed up to withdraw from participation in a society’s dominant institutions, the society would cease to function, at least along the old...

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About the Author

George Scialabba is the author of What Are Intellectuals Good For?  and For the Republic.