Home > Uncategorized > Michael Sandel Asks If We Are REALLY All in This Together… Maybe We COULD Be in the Future IF…

Michael Sandel Asks If We Are REALLY All in This Together… Maybe We COULD Be in the Future IF…

April 13, 2020

The title of Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel’s NYTimes Op poses this question: “Are We All in the Together?” The answer is obviously “No”… but Mr. Sandel offers several thoughtful insights as to why this is the case and suggests some ways we might change our economy to make us more unified than we have been of late. He notes that our current arrangement, which he describes as “meritocratic”, has some inherent flaws:

In recent decades, governing elites have done little to make life better for the nearly two-thirds of Americans who do not have a college degree. And they have failed to confront what should be one of the central questions of our politics: How can we ensure that Americans who do not inhabit the privileged ranks of the professional classes find dignified work that enables them to support a family, contribute to their community and win social esteem?

As economic activity has shifted from making things to managing money, as society has lavished outsize rewards on hedge fund managers and Wall Street bankers, the esteem accorded to traditional work has become fragile and uncertain. At a time when finance has claimed a greater share of corporate profits, many who labor in the real economy, producing useful goods and services, have not only endured stagnant wages and uncertain job prospects; they have also come to feel that society accords less respect to the kind of work they do.

The coronavirus pandemic has suddenly forced us to reconsider what social and economic roles matter most.

Many of the essential workers during this crisis are performing jobs that do not require college degrees; they are truckers, warehouse workers, delivery workers, police officers, fire fighters, utility maintenance workers, sanitation workers, supermarket cashiers, stock clerks, nurse assistants, hospital orderlies and home care providers. They lack the luxury of working from the safety of their homes and holding meetings on Zoom. They, along with the doctors and nurses caring for the afflicted in overcrowded hospitals, are the ones who are putting their health at risk so the rest of us can seek refuge from contagion. Beyond thanking them for their service, we should reconfigure our economy and society to accord such workers the compensation and recognition that reflects the true value of their contributions — not only in an emergency but in our everyday lives.

Mr. Sandel then offers several policy ideas that would result in more even compensation before closing with the overarching question:

We need to ask whether reopening the economy means going back to a system that, over the past four decades, pulled us apart, or whether we can emerge from this crisis with an economy that enables us to say, and to believe, that we are all in this together.

After reading through Mr. Sandel’s ideas for improving the structure of our economy, I felt that he omitted one crucial element: the need to overhaul our public education system that lays the foundation upon which our ideas of meritocracy are based. Consequently I left this comment, advocating the need to examine some of the fundamental assumptions about school when it reopens:

I would also suggest that it is most important that we look at the way we structure our schools in the future. Our ideas of “meritocracy” are rooted in the way we sort and select children starting with the tests we give to determine who will get into “gifted and talented” programs beginning in elementary schools, programs that are the first steps on the road to the coveted seats in Ivy League schools. The overlooked “heroes” who are providing essential services have been overlooked from the day they set foot in schools. They are the “ungifted and untalented” students who failed to make the cut from the get go… got the message from the very beginning that they were less important than the “smart kids”, but nevertheless world hard and diligently to complete high school and find jobs that gave them some kind of economic security. It’s about time we recognize their importance and, who knows, maybe— if we DON’T go back to normal— we’ll offer them a living wage, good health care, decent pensions, and predictable work hours.

%d bloggers like this: