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The more useful money is, the more miserable people are

by RACHEL HELMS 12 months ago in advice
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The more useful money is, the more miserable people are

The more useful money is, the more miserable people are
Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

 Harvard professor Michael Sandel has a book out called "What Money Can't Buy" that provides a very overwhelming anti-surrogacy rationale.


  Sandel's reasons are twofold. One is that buying and selling a good thing for a price can "corrupt" that good thing. Let's say you're spending an afternoon with a girl you love, talking about life and art, and you think it's wonderful. Later you learn that it was your mother who saw you as too withdrawn and paid for a chat service, so would you feel bad?


  Another reason is that it would make society more unequal.


  It is well known that Warren Buffett loves Coca-Cola. Warren Buffett is very rich, but he is rich again and drinks the exact same Coke that I drink. And I can drink more Coke than he does if I want to. I am very equal to Warren Buffett in terms of my enjoyment of Coca-Cola.


  Inequality in the amount of money does not mean inequality in the utility of money. This is because there are many good things in the world that cannot be bought with money. You are not rich, but you can be younger and healthier than the rich man; you have more free time than he does and look better than he does; and your wife, for some reason, prefers to love you and not him.


  If society is like this, you will feel that this society is okay, although the income is not equal. The rich people have more money, but they can only buy some luxury goods. A society where the utility of money is very limited and the rich can't do whatever they want is acceptable to us. And that would include the rich having to face the problems of growing old, dying and having children just like the poor.


  In such a society, people are compared with each other in a multidimensional way. You have more money, but I am more learned; you are beautiful, but I am strong. Money is not the only thing that matters. People can have a wide variety of pursuits, and people live more freely.


  But to say that money can buy anything is a completely different story. Money is too useful if you can hire someone to be a soldier for you, if you can genetically customize your offspring, if you can guarantee your children a good college education, or even if you don't have to have children yourself or if you can buy a life span.


  Such a society becomes a one-dimensional society: any two people standing together just have to see who has money. Then there would be no point in pursuing anything else, and you would only think about how much it was worth in everything you did.


  Living in such a society would be very painful.


  What we are really worried about is not whether a society where people can do whatever they want with money will emerge tomorrow, but the trend of change. We want society to move in the direction of increasing equality, and we worry that it will move in the direction of inequality.


  Since the industrial revolution, the whole trend of social development would have been more and more equal. For example, the washing machine, such as the life of the rich actually did not have much impact, they did not have to do their own laundry. The washing machine allows ordinary people to live a life without having to do the laundry themselves. The washing machine promotes equality between people in the utility of life.


  And there are many good inventions that are driven by the rich. The first electric cars that Tesla introduced were luxury sports cars. We should be grateful to the rich people who bought that lot of cars. Even if they did it just to be cool, it actually contributed to the growth of Tesla, which is what allows Tesla to offer relatively less expensive electric cars to the market today.


  That's what markets do: they reduce scarcity and make them more affordable to more people. This mechanism of the market can reduce inequality.


  Why is it okay to buy a sports car, but not a kidney? Because kidneys are grown on people. If you buy a kidney, someone else has to lose a kidney.


  This kind of sale may increase the availability of human kidneys in the market, but it will not automatically upgrade human kidneys to artificial ones. To replace human kidneys with artificial ones, what we need to do is to ban the trade in human kidneys.


  If there is a drug that can increase human life expectancy, even if it is sold at a very high price, the first group of people to use it can only be the rich, it increases the inequality of money utility, we accept it. Because the market can automatically make the drug cheaper, so that in the future everyone can use it.


  But if the drug has to be formulated with the life expectancy of the poor, for example, a rich man can spend $100 million to exchange ten years of the life expectancy of the poor for one year of his own life, and he can use all the money to "top up" his life expectancy, that will not work.


  Because this drug does not reduce inequality, but makes society more unequal. If someone agrees to sell $100 million today, someone will agree to sell $10 million, $1 million, or even $10,000 tomorrow. Even if the poor are willing, we cannot allow this to happen, because a society where money can do whatever it wants is too scary.


  This is why, for the treatment of infertility and the development of artificial wombs, we can accept it, but for surrogacy, we are not willing to accept it.


  In short, inequality in the amount of money can sometimes promote equality in the utility of money, but inequality in utility is inequality. We like equality.


  The pursuit of equality may be an irrational obsession, but since I am not Warren Buffet, I choose to be on the side of equality.


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