Tag Archives: Nuclear

Chapter 3 – Fairness and Inequality: What Money Can[‘t] Buy, Part 3

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last finished a chapter in Michael Sandel’s book, What Money Can’t Buy. I recently completed chapter 3 a couple of nights ago and there were some intriguing things to think about. Let’s get right to it!

For me, there were two important parts to the chapter. The first is the explanation of the two objections to markets. Prof. Sandel explains that the two kinds of objections to markets are fairness and inequality:

The fairness objection points to the injustice that can arise when people buy and sell things under conditions of inequality or dire economic necessity. According to this objection, market exchanges are not always as voluntary as market enthusiasts suggest… [The corruption objection] points to the degrading effect of market valuation and exchange on certain goods and practices. According to this objection, certain moral and civic goods are diminished or corrupted if bought and sold. [Emphasis added]

A few pages later, Prof. Sandel explains further what he means:

The fairness and corruption objections differ in their implications for markets: The fairness argument does not object to marketizing certain goods on the grounds that they are precious or sacred or priceless; it objects to buying and selling goods against a background of inequality severe enough to create unfair bargaining conditions… The corruption argument focuses on the character of the goods themselves and the norms that should govern them. So it cannot be met simply by establishing fair bargaining conditions. [Emphasis added]

Reading this was a bit tough to swallow. It seemed unlikely that all arguments against markets could be filtered into one of two categories. Then, I thought about his course that I watched last year, “Justice,” and how many of the students seemed to want to argue for nuance around the edges. While there was still nuance, the arguments they put forth still, for the most part, seemed to fall into a way of thinking that had already been espoused by a philosopher.

Later in the chapter, Prof. Sandel discusses three cases where the marketization of a good crowds out nonmarket norms. That was a bit wordy. Prof. Sandel shares cases where adding a market-like aspect (where there previously wasn’t), changed the way people interacted with the good. One of these cases I found particularly surprising (at least at first).

The case comes from Switzerland in the early 1990s. The country was looking for a place to store its nuclear waste. Of course, no town really wanted to house the nuclear waste, but there was a small village that was picked. Some economists surveyed the village to see if they’d accept it, if the Swiss parliament decided that it was the place to put the waste. Fifty-one percent of residents said they’d accept it. The economists then asked another question. If the parliament also paid each resident, would you then accept it? The idea being that, money is the king incentive for everyone, so adding money to this equation should only get more people accepting of the waste, right? Wrong. By adding the monetary sweetener, support collapsed from 51% to 25%! Even when they added more money, that didn’t seem to affect the outcome. Why?

For many villagers, willingness to accept the nuclear waste site reflected public spirit — a recognition that the country as a whole depended on nuclear energy and that the nuclear waste had to be stored somewhere. If their community was found to be the safest storage site, they were willing to bear the burden. Against the background of this civic commitment, the offer of cash to residents of the village felt like a bribe, an effort to buy their vote.

This seemed like an incredible story with an important lesson — money isn’t always the solution. There were two other examples, but none that were as powerful for me as this one.


The second important part of this chapter is the explanation of the “two tenets of market faith”:

The first is that commercializing an activity doesn’t change it. On this assumption, money never corrupts, and market relations never crowd out nonmarket norms… The second tenet of market faith is that ethical behavior is a commodity that needs to be economized. The idea is this: we should not rely too heavily on altruism, generosity, solidarity, or civic duty, because these moral sentiments are scarce resources that are depleted with use. [Emphasis added]

Prof. Sandel already showed earlier in the chapter that money can crowd out nonmarket norms. After this above quoted section, he goes on to show that things like altruism and generosity are not scarce resources and that they are not depleted with use. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Fields like positive psychology have done research on these areas and shown that there’s almost a multiplier effect with things like altruism and generosity.

If you liked this post, you might like one of the other posts in this series:


Protection from Nuclear War: Look to the Cockroaches

Yesterday, I saw a post from Mental Floss about whether or not cockroaches would be able to survive a nuclear war. That is, not whether or not the cockroaches would put up a fight in a nuclear war, but whether or not they would survive the radiation from a nuclear war that happened where they existed.

The post cited research done by MythBusters that concluded cockroaches have a much higher tolerance for radiation.

Does anyone else see an opportunity for innovation here?

If I were a scientist, (aside from ethical conundrum), I might be interested in seeing how much radiation cockroaches could withstand before it affects their ability to function. Why? Because then I would want to study what it is about the cockroaches that allows them to withstand such radiation. Then, I’d want to see if I could design some sort of protection for humans. To be fair, it’d be very hard to get this to pass through any kind of Institutional Review Board (IRB). That is, the IRB would probably balk at any kind of research where humans were being used to test the strength of some kind of cockroach shield. Though, I imagine that scientists might be able to work around this by using human cells in the lab, right?

Proof That Grassroots CAN Work: Germany Closing ALL Nuclear Plants by 2022

Germany has a history of being anti-nuclear. Put more accurately: the citizens of Germany have a history of being anti-nuclear. :

The anti-nuclear movement in Germany has a long history dating back to the early 1970s, when large demonstrations prevented the construction of a nuclear plant. . . an example of a local community challenging the nuclear industry through a strategy of direct action and civil disobedience. . . Anti-nuclear success at [here] inspired nuclear opposition throughout Germany, in other parts of Europe, and in North America. . . Germany’s anti-nuclear stance was strengthened [from the Chernobyl incident]. . . In September 2010, German government policy shifted back toward nuclear energy, and this generated some new anti-nuclear sentiment in Berlin and beyond. On September 18, 2010, tens of thousands of Germans surrounded Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office. In October 2010, tens of thousands of people protested in Munich. In November 2010, there were violent protests against a train carrying reprocessed nuclear waste.

The people of Germany do not want nuclear energy — they’ve made this abundantly clear in their recent history. An interesting (and somewhat inspiring) bit of protesting that wasn’t included in the introduction of this Wikipedia entry happened

A Human Chain along the Elbe River: Approximately 120,000 people formed a 120 kilometer-long chain between the nuclear power plants in Krummel and Brunsbuttel to take a stand against the federal government’s nuclear policy. At the same time around 20,000 people demonstrated in front of the Biblis Power plant in southern Hesse. Another 7,000 protesters gathered in front of an interim nuclear waste storage facility in North Rhine-Westphalia.

That is incredible. Seeing pictures of protests/marches at the National Mall can be kind of exhilarating, but a 120km chain of people — that’s quite a political statement. Forget political, that’s quite a statement in general. To be able to gather that many people together (not just in one place), but to span across a distance so great — that’s just inspiring. Moving forward to this year, after the , the Germans resolve for a nuclear-free country was reignited.

On Saturday [March 12th, the day after the Tsunami struck Japan], anti-nuclear protesters formed a 45-km (27 mile) human chain from the Baden-Wuerttemberg capital of Stuttgart to Neckarwestheim I. Between 50,000 and 60,000 demonstrators took part, according to police and organisers. [sic]

Three days after the disaster started in Japan, Chancellor Merkel announced a , during which the initial plans to extend the life of some of the older nuclear plants in the country . The next day, the Chancellor took it one step further by off the grid (temporarily). Some noted that this with the upcoming state elections.

While I’m sure that these decisions made the German citizens happy, it clearly was not enough for them. On March 26th, just two short weeks after the event in Japan, to “demand the irreversible phase out [of] nuclear power.” (Here’s a link to an , in case you don’t use Google Chrome/Translate to read the German article.) The protesting , with pockets of people protesting in different areas of the country totaling over 10,000.

… And now finally, the German citizens are getting what they asked for — . A country whose energy department will never again have to create plans and procedures for dealing with new radioactive waste. By the year 2022, Germany will have . How awesome is that? Forget for a second where you stand on nuclear energy and just take in the effect that the citizens of the country had on the policymakers of the country. The citizens of Germany did not want nuclear energy. Period. The policymakers thought that this position (of the people) may have softened and tried to open up the possibility for more nuclear power. Upon learning of this, the citizens revolted. Heeding the word of the people, the policymakers had to go back on their plans to increase nuclear energy in the country.

This is quite an amazing feat (to me). The people wanted something – desperately – and now they’re getting it. It seems similar in a way to some of the other things that have happened this year. There were the for union rights and more noteworthy, there was (and still is) the overwhelming number of . It has been quite a year for “small groups” of people, hasn’t it? It may seem a bit clichéd, (but it is most definitely not contrived); I wanted to end this post with a quote from a :

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.