Ways to allocate goods

I am following the discussion series What Money Can’t Buy led by Michael Sandel. I think the questions raised in this series are important, and equally interesting. Interesting too, are the different views the participating students, and professors – have. Michael Sandel uses a Socratic approach in the discussion, and at the end of each episode, he kindly gives us a resume of the issue put forward, and the different arguments shared during the talk.

In episode 4, Supply Shock, Sandel sums up three ways of allocating goods:

  • by paying, giving up money (or other goods)
  • by waiting, giving up time, or
  • on basis of need or urgency

I found this interesting in two respects. First, in the Dutch Economics specification, exchange is said to be the basis for an optimal allocation of resources, thus not leaving room for other ways of allocation. Second, and I am hesitant to mention it, I miss a way to allocate goods, and that is by way of violence. I remind myself thereof, to bring in mind we need a way of allocation that is functional and acceptable, since the alternative is questionable.


How can you use this in the classroom?

I do not propagate to present violence as an alternative to the other ways of allocation – for me it is something to keep in the back of my head, attributing to the importance to develop and maintain a system of allocation that is supported by people. At the same time the talks show how much arguments diverge. Therefore I would suggest that, if you can find the time, you watch an episode in the series with your students, and continue the talk with your students afterwards. An episode is about 30 minutes.