Michael Sandel: An Analysis Of Democracy's Discontent
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In Chapter 7 of Democracy’s Discontent, Michael Sandel discusses the Progressive Era and social reform of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Sandel describes the era as being divided into 3 visions: decentralization, nationalist, and consumerist. I would argue that the vision of decentralization informed the anti-chain store movement, but the anti-trust movement was influenced by both the consumerist and decentralization visions. The criticisms of “too-big-to-fail” banks are the decentralized vision and the Affordable Care Act can be seen as both the nationalist and consumerist visions.
First, the “decentralization” vision was popularized by Louis Brandeis. It advocates deindustrialization on the grounds that it limits self-government among citizens. This makes the same republican virtue arguments that Sandel himself makes. Government should not regulate trusts for the benefit of workers or consumers. Rather, the state should ban monopolies and break up trusts in order to promote competition among firms. It is important that businesses be local and independent in order to preserve the people’s democratic control over the government.
The “nationalist” vision is distinct because, while it is uncomfortable with industrialization, it doesn’t believe that deindustrialization is possible or preferable to the status quo. This vision, advocated by Theodore Roosevelt, argued that the negative effects of industrial capitalism could be countered by increasing the role of the state in the economy. Roosevelt said in 1910, “Big Business has become nationalized,” and therefore the only course of action would be for the government to literally nationalize big business.
Last, the “consumerist” vision was more concerned with plig...
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...einvestment in the community and more stable. This mirrors the decentralization vision because it values smaller economic entities that are locally owned . The farm subsidy debate also reflects this vision. Farm subsidies often go to large agribusiness firms rather than small farmers. This forces independent farmers out of the market and concentrates economic power which limits self-government.
In conclusion, Sandel frames the Progressive Era into 3 visions: decentralization (which mirrors his own arguments for independent producers to promote morality), consumerist (which argues for safe and cheap consumer goods), and nationalist (which achieves better conditions for workers through government regulation). The decentralized vision represents the anti-chain store, antitrust and anti-farm subsidy movements. The consumerist vision represents the antitrust movement.