On June 1st, Michael Sandel, Harvard professor, gave a special lecture on “What Money Can’t Buy” at Yonsei University Amphitheater. It was in every sense of the word, an open class. The audience consisting of some 15,000 people participated in the lecture and enthusiastically shared their ideas. Professor Sandel threw questions at the audience and the audience competitively took the microphone to express their opinion.
Professor Sandel excited the crowd instantly even before the lecture by greeting them in Korean – “Yeoruh-bun, Sarang-haeyo!” (I love you, all!). The attendees were attentive and responsive, clapping throughout the lecture. Laughter broke out continuously even in the middle of serious discussions.
Professor Sandel opened the lecture saying, “Today, we will be discussing some difficult problems. However, we do not all have to come to the same conclusions. I hope we can show mutual respect.”
He talked about how some tickets for the lecture were sold online by scalpers leading to the question of “What Money Can’t Buy.” He began the discussion by comparing the sale of Lady Gaga’s concert tickets for a higher price and the trading of a medical treatment form endowing a patient with the right to get consultation from a doctor in the black market.
In regard to this, one person said that it is wrong to buy and sell a basic right – to be able to see a doctor and get an examination. Another intensified the discussion adding that while there are goods that can be given monetary value, money should not be able to buy certain things, such as human organs.
Next, students from Korea University and Yonsei University debated on the controversial topic of donation-based admission policy. The student from Korea University claimed that, “I disagree with the policy because it deteriorates the original purpose of a school, which is to provide education.” The Yonsei University student argued that, “If the donation from 10% of the students can enhance the quality of education for the other 90%, I support it.” As the debate continued, the student in favor of the policy found his argument weakening and eventually said, “I’m sorry.” To this, Professor Sandel gave words of encouragement.
The audience became more engaged and involved in the lecture as the discussions with the professor deepened.
Some said that they were nervous before voicing their opinions, and some started out speaking in English, then, switched to Korean making the audience laugh.
The professor also brought up the issue of using cash incentives to motivate students to study. A student shared her story about how her grades recently fell and was not granted a scholarship. All the students at the amphitheater clapped and cheered in encouragement.
As the discussion heated up, some even asked for an opportunity to speak. One person succeeded in getting the microphone by shouting out “I’m a teacher!” She said, “From observing young students in my class, I noticed that when I got rid of the blue stickers I gave to students who read books, the number of books read decreased.” The elementary school teacher added that, “The problem is that students are unable to develop internal motivation to read.”
The professor explained that monetary rewards changes students’ attitude and norm consciousness. If they are give cash incentive as an expression of gratitude, there is a risk that they will lose the ability to feel gratitude.
He mentioned pop-singer Rain, and suggested that instead of fulfilling their military duties, what if the male celebrities donated half of their annual earnings to the government? The discussion reached its peak at this point.
Only 15~20 people raised their hands in favor of the suggestion. Among them, one high-school student said, “On the whole, there is only a handful, such as Rain and Park Chu-young, who would give donations instead of joining the military. We should consider the benefits and practical interests that the rest of society can get from their donations.” A student who recently completed his military service opposed the suggestion saying, “Fulfilling one’s military obligations cannot have market-oriented value. Its value cannot be converted into money.” His statement was received with applause.
The professor closed off the discussion. “We should not give value to things based on monetary standards only. We should be able to tell when money and the market intrude upon important values (social norms and obligations) that are not market-oriented.” He pointed out that, “The disparity between the rich and poor is getting worse, reducing the chances of communication, which is problematic. Our society needs to become one where people from various backgrounds share and discuss different ideas and opinions.”
He concluded, “We have to think about how we can all live together.” Finally, he thanked the audience for the ardent and challenging discussions.