Can't Buy Me Love

It is hard to express your own beliefs if you are forced to speak in the tongue of your opponents.

It is hard to express your own beliefs if you are forced to speak in the tongue of your opponents. Arguments are lost before they begin because the terms of debate are skewed in advance. That is the position in which Democrats, liberals, and even moderates now find themselves.

One telltale sign of the shift is the extent to which the language of the economic marketplace now dominates the political discussion. We are at a point where any action that might seem good or wise on other grounds must nonetheless be defended in the market’s terms. The tongue-in-cheek comment of Anne Lewis, a veteran of Democratic campaigns and administrations, is exceptionally revealing: "We used to call for immunizing little children against disease. Now we call it an investment in human capital."

Distorting language in this way concedes what should not be conceded: that the market represents the one and only proper measure of a public action. As columnist and economics writer Robert Kuttner has argued, the idea that everything should not be for sale reflects a deep popular wisdom. Immunizing little children would be a good idea whether a market analysis justified its economic value or not. We don’t measure the moral rights of children on the same basis as we might calculate the value of a stock or the purchase price of a car.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2004
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