Seen in isolation, these commercial encroachments seem innocuous enough.
But Sandel sees them as signs of a bad trend: "Over the last three
decades," he states, "we have drifted from having a market economy to
becoming a market society. A market economy is a tool -- a valuable and
effective tool -- for organizing productive activity. But a 'market
society' is a place where everything is up for sale. It is a way of life
where market values govern every sphere of life."
Why worry about this trend? Because, Sandel argues, market values are
crowding out civic practices. When public schools are plastered with
commercial advertising, they teach students to be consumers rather than
citizens. When we outsource war to private military contractors, and
when we have separate, shorter lines for airport security for those who
can afford them, the result is that the affluent and those of modest
means live increasingly separate lives, and the class-mixing
institutions and public spaces that forge a sense of common experience
and shared citizenship get eroded.
This is analytically sloppy. Advertising on school buses may be problematic. Outsourcing war to private military contractors definitely is - but for a very different reason. Shorter security lines for affluent air passengers are problematic for a third reason. Conflating those things makes no sense.
Let's focus on advertising generally.
What Friedman misses is how frequently advertising increases shared experiences across income levels. For example, his column is bizarrely titled, "This Column Is Not Sponsored by Anyone," despite the fact that right above it on NYTimes.com there is a banner ad for a Citi/American Airlines credit card. What's the effect of that sponsorship? The fee paid to the Times is part of why the newspaper could offer the column online where it can be read free by anyone.
Without advertisers, they'd have to charge for the column. Lots of people would be priced out of that market.
Think about the aspects of American life that are shared across income groups: professional sports, television shows like American Idol, magazines like US Weekly, big budget movies, fast food, free Web based email, Facebook - all of it is subsidized to various degrees by advertising.
Perhaps there is a terrible cost to this unprecedented commercialization of life. But even if de-commercializing American had all the salutary effects you'd expect from reading Ad Busters or Don DeLillo, it would almost certainly make the lived experience of rich and poor more divergent. Watching TV would be much more expensive. There'd be no such thing as free email, and the rich would be using a better service. Mass market pro sports either wouldn't survive in their current form or ticket prices would go up. And that's not an exhaustive list, because advertising rewards the ability to attract a mass audience, incentivizing common culture.