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Are Markets Just? (Business School Version)

#MBA #Japan #Harvard

“Some values cannot be purchased with money. In that case, what can money buy?” This was part of an advertisement at one time, and the present column is the Business School Version of that. Last year, I attended a session taught at the Harvard Business School for business school professors. Our teacher was the famous Michael J. Sandel of Harvard University. The theme of the session was, “Are market transactions truly just?”

Professor Sandel abruptly asked the following: “Okay, tell me something that money cannot buy.” Answers were as expected, including “friends,” for example. Well, he replied, what about the “best man” services offered for weddings? There are in fact excellent services provided for people who, for whatever reasons, need “friends” but don’t have them. The next question was: “So what should it be impossible to buy with money?” Someone mentioned human trafficking. Professor Sandel retorted: “What is the difference between that and services that introduce families to orphans, or organ donation services?”

In our discussion of such sensitive topics, we were able to consider the significance of market transactions, a hallmark of contemporary society. As you may imagine, we became aware of how the market changes the “values” of traditional items; that was the message. It is a fact that MBA education often teaches “market-centered” principles. Professor Sandel emphasized the need to question the justice of markets, as well as to look skeptically at any market that “blindly worships” business schools.