As a child born in the mid 70’s, I’ve been so deeply submerged in the quiet revolution that Michael Sandel describes in his TED Talk about why we shouldn’t trust markets with our civic life that I couldn’t imagine the alternative. As I have learned over the years, everything costs money, from healthcare to education, and regardless of the old adage that the best things in life are free, the market values which permeate our culture reduce everything down to the bottom line.
Our market values are problematic in a number of areas as Sandel describes, but the most worrisome is how pervasive this type of thinking has become in our civic life. Once every few years, candidates in our local elections work hard to raise money in order to print yard signs, design campaign websites, and spend time in public debates or going door to door asking for our votes. After the election is over and the votes have been tallied, representatives become emboldened by the mandates of their electors and disappear from the public debates, without the need to show up on our doorsteps until the next election season.
While many people in Washington are committed to getting money out of politics, most of their solutions are based on market values such as limiting the amount of money that campaigns can raise, or providing candidates with a public option in order to level the playing field. In these examples, money is still the primary focus, and the essential means of connecting with constituents is overlooked, being replaced by campaign slogans and the need to stay on message. In short, interactions with our representatives have been replaced by advertising, with little effort being afforded to using the network in order to empower our democracy.