IN A PRICE-TAG SOCIETY

If your child wants attendance in school without attending classes, he or she will get it. Some schools are 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 busy temple, and you don’t have the time and patience to stand in the long queue, don’t worry; for a price, a separate line will be ‘constructed’ for you. If you want to name a particular lane in the name of someone you like, 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 can get it, provided you have the capacity to ‘buy’ comforts.

We live in a ‘price tag’ society. We live in a world where everything can be bought and sold. To purchase our ‘wants’, we become purchasable. We forget that values we exchange for goods are often more valuable. We often ignore the hidden cost we pay to maintain such a society. We often forget that the optimal value isn’t always the most desirable one. Everything can’t be treated as a commodity, and everything should not be sold and bought. It is a matter of worry if everything is up for sale. The worry is on two counts: inequality and corruption. Increasing commodification of our existence is a form of corruption, which undermines both our relationships with each other and the society. We can’t always follow pursuits that are expected to maximise our economic efficiency. If bribery works, it doesn’t mean we should go for it.

Everything is not for sale. There are things like civic duties, education, and health that should be valued differently. 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. Mazar and Ariely’s research shows that people behave dishonestly enough to profit, but honestly enough to delude themselves of their own integrity. This means we are a little bit dishonest, but we also don’t want to spoil our integrity. We make rules so that we can change them. No rule has infinite half-life. If we had followed the rules when we were infants, we would not have learnt to walk. Ants live in rulebound society, but we are not ants.

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