We live in a time when almost everything can be bought and sold. There has been a proliferation of for-profit schools, hospitals, and prisons, and the outsourcing of war to private military contractors. Police forces are being replaced by private security firms—especially in the U.S. and the U.K., where the number of private guards is almost twice the number of public police officers. These use of markets to allocate health, education, public safety, national security, criminal justice, environmental protection, recreation, and other social goods is now largely taken for granted.
A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor. It’s a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market. Here are some examples of how the big sell operates.
• A prison-cell upgrade: $90 a night. In Santa Ana, California, and some other cities, nonviolent offenders can pay for a clean, quiet jail cell, without any non-paying prisoners to disturb them.
• The services of an Indian surrogate mother: $8,000. Western couples seeking surrogates increasingly outsource the job to India, and the price is less than one-third the going rate in the United States.
• The right to shoot an endangered black rhino: $250,000. South Africa has begun letting some ranchers sell hunters the right to kill a limited number of rhinos, to give the ranchers an incentive to raise and protect the endangered species.
• Your doctor’s cellphone number: $1,500 and up per year. A growing number of “concierge” doctors offer cellphone access and same-day appointments for patients willing to pay annual fees ranging from $1,500 to $25,000.
• The right to emit a metric ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere: $10.50. The European Union runs a carbon-dioxide-emissions market that enables companies to buy and sell the right to pollute.
• The right to immigrate to the United States: $500,000. Foreigners who invest $500,000 and create at least 10 full-time jobs in an area of high unemployment are eligible for a green card that entitles them to permanent residency.
• Sell space on your forehead to display commercial advertising: $10,000. A single mother in Utah who needed money for her son’s education was paid $10,000 by an online casino to install a permanent tattoo of the casino’s Web address on her forehead. Temporary tattoo ads earn less.
• Serve as a human guinea pig in a drug-safety trial for a pharmaceutical company: $7,500. The pay can be higher or lower, depending on the invasiveness of the procedure used to test the drug’s effect and the discomfort involved.
• Fight in Somalia or Afghanistan for a private military contractor: up to $1,000 a day. The pay varies according to qualifications, experience, and nationality.
• Stand in line overnight on Capitol Hill to hold a place for a lobbyist who wants to attend a congressional hearing: $15–$20 an hour. Lobbyists pay line-standing companies, who hire homeless people and others to queue up.