Drawing The Line: This is What’s Not For Sale

As business leaders we are part of the problem. Leading the process of buying and selling goods and services in an ever-growing number of sectors, we may think that we are simply helping to provide for people’s needs. But through those acts of buying and selling, through saying ‘this thing is for sale’, we are part of a system that does much more than that. And more, in this case, is not good.

Up for Grabs

As Michael J Sandel pointed out in his book [easyazon_link asin=”0374203032″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”achievstrate-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]What Money Can’t Buy[/easyazon_link], saying that something is for sale implicitly legitimizes its treatment as a commodity, as something that we can legitimately use to make a profit. Deep down inside we all know that a line must be drawn somewhere to stop this. That’s why you can’t buy votes or children or the support of juror number seven at a trial.

Deep down inside we all know that a line must be drawn somewhere to stop this.

We have seen before what happens when the most precious of gifts, human life, comes up for sale. In the era of the Atlantic slave trade millions of people were reduced to commodities – captured, bought and sold for the profit of others. Arising at the terrible intersection of old social divisions and the modern capitalist system, this was not slavery as the Greeks or Romans would have recognized it, where ownership at least placed obligations on the master, where rights and duties, wretchedly imbalanced as they might be, at least cut both ways.

This was humanity for sale. No sense of responsibility. No restraint by integrity. Just lives for gold.

Where Are We Now?

The place where we draw the line has shifted since then. Human lives are not for sale. But the growing power and presence of the markets has put the market method of distribution into every corner of our lives. Education, health, security, everything from how long we live to private information about our lives, it is all subject to that system.

Your life might not be for sale, but every facet of it is. And the fact that we do business in those most precious corners of people’s lives only reinforces that message.

The growing power and presence of the markets has put the market method of distribution into every corner of our lives.

This isn’t to say that businesses can’t be about something more. Whether it’s Innocent Smoothies, Microsoft’s charitable funds, or a local food co-operative, there are ways to make a business about something more. Ways to state, both explicitly and implicitly, that you as a business leader place value on more than just profit and loss. That there are such things as responsibility and integrity. That it’s not just about the money.

Because unless you clearly make such a point than profit and loss, the commodification of our society, is the message that your business will send out.

Unless you clearly make such a point than profit and loss, the commodification of our society, is the message that your business will send out.

If we want to turn this around then we have to start changing the structures that we work within, the laws and the politics that govern business. But in the short term it is up to each of us, as a leader in our own field, to stand up and say ‘this is where I draw the line. This I do not do for money.

‘This is what’s not for sale.’


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Image credit: oneinchpunch / 123RF Stock Photo

Mark Lukens is a Founding Partner of Method3, a global management consulting firm. He has 20 plus years of C-Level experience across multiple sectors including healthcare, education, government, and people and potential (aka HR). In addition, Mark currently serves as Chairman of the Board for Behavioral Health Service North, a large behavioral health services provider in New York. He also actively serves on the faculty of the State University of New York (SUNY) and teaches in the School of Business and Economics; Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship and the Department of Management, International Business and Information Systems. Mark holds an MBA and is highly recognized in the technology and healthcare space with credentials including MCSE and Paramedic. Most of Mark’s writing involves theoretical considerations and practical application, academics, change leadership, and other topics at the intersection of business, society, and humanity. Mark resides in New York with his wife Lynn, two children, and two Labradors. The greatest pursuit; “To be more in the Service of Others.”

  • Sharon GilmourGlover

    Mark, your post connected with me on a deep level. Before entering business, I taught environmental education from a deep ecology perspective.

    Throughout my entire business career I’ve experienced a sense of friction created by my need to live from my deep-seated values and ethics and grow a healthy, profitable business while helping clients generate sustained results. I often find myself at the intersection of a paradox. Generally, that is a good place to be, but not always comfortable.

    In 1992 I consciously decided to work in business after reading a journal of essays, “New Traditions in Leadership – Spirit and Leadership in the 21st Century”. I came to believe the business is the biggest lever we have for making deep, trasnformational and lasting change for good in the world, for the planet and everything on it. That underpins our consulting practice. It drives my life.

    Your work brought to the fore some of my thinking, some of that struggle, that productive friction I live with as we work to expand from regional to global. Thank you so much for bringing these deeper issues front and centre. In a way, this post encapsulates why I got into business and why over 20 years later, I’m as passionately committed. This represents the types of dialogue I care about and want to contribute to in any I can.

    I don’t know if that makes any sense to you but know you fed my inspiration today and for that I’m grateful.

  • Mark, you have expressed how we should all act with integrity and honesty. That is what a capitalist, free market economy naturally creates. But we no longer have a capitalist, free market system in the US and the EU has never had one, strictly modern socialism.

    The best markets are controlled by buyers and sellers. Buyers control bad sellers by not buying their products thus causing their businesses to fail. Our markets are controlled by government regulators and lawmakers and buyers control has been removed. Regulators use power and violence to control markets. They have become corrupt to the core because power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The power brokers have put everything on sale including honesty and integrity. Education is on sale – lighting, car characteristics, healthcare, courts, etc, etc – everything the power brokers can control. The highest bidders are teachers, lawyers, and other special interest groups like environmentalists and climate change activists.

    Regulators sold their power to community organizers and forced banks and lenders to lend to people who had no chance of repaying loans. When that caused a financial crash, regulators blamed the banks and lenders and forced them to pay large fines. Note that none have gone to jail since any trials would expose the government power and special interest groups as being the real cause.

    Voters are getting what they deserve. They want government to fix all their problems with someone else’s money. So now we have a very VERY powerful government unencumbered by any rules or laws that can do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it. In the process, the people have given up their freedom for security and now have neither.

    I am not at all against living our lives with integrity as you recommend. But we need to understand what we have done to the “land of the free and the home of the brave”. We have destroyed it for future generations unless we decide to change it.

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