Sandel’s key insight is his ability to insist that the market is simultaneously an invaluable tool for the distribution of commodities, and a terrible danger to society when goods that should never be treated as commodities are placed on the market to be bought and sold like the latest computer gadgets or fashions. With that in mind, Sandel offers a better argument for why inequality matters than any I have heard or read before:
If the only advantage of affluence were the ability to buy yachts, sports cars, and fancy vacations, inequalities of income and wealth would not matter very much. But as money comes to buy more and more – political influence, good medical care, a home in a safe neighborhood rather than a crime-ridden one, access to elite schools rather than failing ones – the distribution of income and wealth looms larger and larger. Where all good things are bought and sold, having money makes all the difference in the world.
My only quibble is that he left out clean drinking water and the non-destruction of lands that have been in families for generations. The impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining are horrifying, and simply would not be allowed to happen in rich areas of the country. For the price of a few high wage but incredibly dangerous and hard jobs, coal companies have been allowed to do almost anything they want to the residents of Appalachia.