Monday, October 07, 2013

Are market-based approaches the miracle or the ruin of social problems? A TED debate.

This is why I love TED.  Today’s TED Talk email suggested watching two brilliant people who present opposite ideas about the use of markets to solve social problems. 

Michael Sandel’s talk is titled “Why we shouldn’t trust markets with our civic life.”  

Michael Porter’s talk is titled “Why business can be good at solving social problems.”

This was not set up as a debate.  They both presented at TED Global in June but they have both made these cases independently before.  What makes this great is that both of these are brilliant thinkers and make convincing cases.  You get a fantastic opportunity to practice your dialectic reasoning skills.  Full disclosure – I have read both of their books and other publications on the subject so I just skimmed through the TED talks. But it seems they have covered all the basics in their 15 minutes of TED fame.

And as usual, the answer is “it depends” – which as you know is my favorite answer.  If designed properly and applied to the right situations, the free market model can work.  But applied poorly or to the wrong situation and it is doomed to fail or make things even worse.  But these two thought leaders are worth listening to because they go into some great details about when, where, why, and how to either leverage the market approach or remove it.  It would be great if they would work together so that it makes it easy to resolve the differences, but they haven’t done this yet.