In this 50-minute session from the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival, Michael J. Sandel gets his audience (and viewers like me and you) thinking about the adverse civic and moral consequences of market mechanisms being introduced into so many areas of public and working life. At the same time he exemplifies a (very difficult to carry off) approach to large group learning.
Here is a rough transcription of Sandel's conclusion, which probably owes its impact to what came before it in the talk:
I think it is no accident that two things have been happening over the past 30 years. One is that what we've discussed today: the tendency to rely more and more on market mechanisms without any public debate. And something else that's been happening which is the hollowing out of public discourse in general. What passes for political discourse these days consists mainly of shouting matches on talk radio and cable TV, and ideological food fights in congress. People are frustrated by this. I think one of the reasons for this is our reluctance to engage in serious public debate about big and controversial moral questions.
But the result of that reluctance is that we have a public discourse that is either managerial and technocratic, which inspires no-one, or, when passion enters, we have shouting matches. People want a better kind of politics.
People want to elevate the terms of our public discourse. People want to address big things in public. So I think that the hollowing out of our public discourse, and the market triumphalist faith that has gone unexamined even after the financial crisis have a common solution. It's not an easy solution. But it's a new kind of politics of the common good that admits, that welcomes into public debate moral engagement on big tough controversial questions, not because we will all agree: we won't; but because it may teach us to listen and learn a little bit better, and it will also lift our sights from the rancour that inflicts our politics, to what I think is a more strenuous kind of citizenship; but also a more satisfying democratic pulic life.