The late Oxford philosopher Jerry Cohen conceived a though experiment that helps us to understand how money works: imagine that we live in a world where we have little tickets distributed at random. On these tickets are rights – the right to go visit your sick mother, the right to cross a particular road, the right to live somewhere, the right to eat a steak, the right to treatment of disease and so on. (…) If you try to do something for which you have no ticket, the law intervenes. The tickets map out the degree to which you are free (or not free) to do something – they are a complete accounting of your liberties. The more tickets you have, the freer you are.
So here’s the twist: Money is just like these tickets. What, after all, does money offer in a market society if not the ability to buy liberty, to afford health care, decent food, housing, the security of not working in retirement, insurance against accident or unemployment? Those without money are as unfree as those whithout tickets. Without cash in a market society, you’re free to do nothing, to have very little and to die young. In other words, under capitalism, MONEY IS THE RIGHT TO HAVE RIGHTS.
The gap between what people earn and the cost of their freedoms means that, for more and more Americans, freedom is just another word for nothing they can afford. (…) In developing countries, of course, the situation has long been dire, and the global recession is pushing millions more into poverty, but in both cases, this poverty has deepened under a system that offered progress, prosperity and development for the poorest, and has delivered its opposite – a yawning inequality gap, less happiness and a dogged persistence of diseases and afflictions to which we have long known the cures.
In the land of the free, the market delivers few choices to those who cannot afford them. In the U.S. health care system, for example, the value of life is famously defined by the market. Michael Moore’s film Sicko shows the U.S. health care industry’s profit-driven approach at its nadir, with stories of patients asked by their insurance company to choose which of their fingers they’d like to save…”
PATEL, R. The Value of Nothing.
1st Canadian Edition.
Toronto: Harper Collins, 2009. Pgs. 112-113.