Michael Sandel, Harvard Professor of Government, delivered a beautiful lecture entitled Markets and Morals as part of the BBC’s Reith Lectures this week.
Sandel considers the expansion of markets and how we determine their moral limits. In this age where “Markets have might so Markets are Right” Sandel reflects on the effects of applying market principles to all systems. He asks us to examine the ‘mark’ left by markets and asks if the influence is always a good or moral one.
Whilst he doesn’t specifically talk about the effect of substituting paid workers for volunteers, his arguments have compelling implications for this trend. I am interested in this because right now we are trying to engender a ’spirit of community’ in a region of northern Zambia where we are attempting to research the needs of the community and motivate them to form and engage in voluntary groups to debate the needs of their region and help develop a prioritised plan for sustainable community development.
There is a pressure and a great temptation to ‘incentivise’ the very poor people of this community to participate in the programme by offering small payments. Instinctively I want to resist this. Sandel in his lecture gives some interesting angles on why our instincts might be right.