PRICE-TAG SOCIETY

We make rules to flout them. If your son wants attendance at school without attending classes, he will get it; some schools run only for this purpose. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to follow traffic rules. The protectors of traffic rules will protect you. If you want to visit a crowded temple and you don’t have the patience to stand in the long queue, don’t worry, for a price a separate line will be created for you. If you want to name a particular lane in the name of someone dear to you, you can do so provided you are willing to pay the price. If you want to sell your product, hire a salesman who is more saleable than the product. If you want to dispose of your ‘waste’ find a ‘wasted’ neighbour. If you want to get home comforts in a prison cell, you will get it, provided you have the capacity to ‘buy’ the prison space. This small list suggests that we live in a world where everything can be bought and sold.

We live in a ‘price tag’ society. Our want-need gap always remains unfulfilled. To purchase our ‘wants’, we become purchasable. We forget that the values we exchange for goods are more valuable. We tend to ignore the hidden costs. We forget that the optimal value isn’t always the most desirable one. We forget that everything can’t be treated as a commodity. It is a matter of worry if everything is up for sale. The worry is for two reasons: inequality and corruption. The more money can buy, the more affluence (or the lack of it) matters. The increasing commodification of our existence is a form of corruption which undermines both our relationships with each other and the relationship of the individual with the society. This kind of approach to life has begun to crowd out our other values. We can’t always maximise our economic efficiency. If bribery works, it doesn’t mean that we should go for it.

Everything is not on sale. There are things (like civic duties, education, health) that should be valued differently. Fortunately we possess an internal reward system that deters us from going the wrong way. Nina Mazar and Dan Ariely’s research demonstrates that people act selfishly, insofar as they maximise their own payoffs, but they are also sensitive to the costs of their dishonest ways. People behave dishonestly enough to profit, but honestly enough to delude themselves of their own integrity. It means that we are little bit dishonest, but we also don’t want to make fuss with our integrity. No rule has infinite half-life. We often break the rules for the good of the society. If we had followed rules when we were kids, we would not have learnt to walk. Ants live in rule-bound society. That is why they have remained ants.

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