Can Money Buy Justice?

Can Money Buy Justice? February 3, 2014

There are many things that money can buy, but can it buy justice? I thought of this question as I was reading What Money Can’t Buy: the Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel. When we think that something can be bought and sold, we end up treating it like a commodity. We must guard against turning justice into a commodity: we cannot buy justice or pay for it; the only way to guard against turning justice into a commodity in a market system is if we live justly in community.

Certainly, we can put money toward issues of justice, such as supporting someone who works for a non-profit organization attending to justice concerns. Money can also be used rightly for the sake of reparations for wrongs committed against various peoples in the past and present. Moreover, we can give financially to children in need here and abroad. All these uses of money are important and beneficial. But giving money can never replace or exhaust opportunities for us to spend ourselves in caring for those in need in just ways. I am struck by the words of Isaiah 58:10: “and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Ultimately, we must not simply spend money, but also ourselves if we are to be just. What is entailed by spending ourselves for others?

If I am spending myself on behalf of others, I am not reducing them to commodities from which I profit. I need to make sure that all my relations—even financial ones—do not entail reducing people to commodities through which I profit. People are ends in themselves, not means to my profit margin and self-advance even in justice circles. That is not to say that we cannot or should not profit in relation to one another in business and in other spheres; but profit margin must never replace person margin; otherwise, we end up marginalizing people where we run over them like bulls in a china shop. What are some ways in which we commodify people and marginalize people today?

In view of Trinitarian theology’s emphasis on God as a community of persons and its related conviction that we image God relationally, we must move beyond commodification to communion if we are to model well God in whose image we are made. What is one thing that you can recommend that would help each of us today act in just ways toward others that cultivate communion rather than commodification of people and relations?


I am excited that The Justice Conference Portland will be hosted by New Wine @ Multnomah U. This event is a great opportunity to engage justice themes such as those I’ve raised here. I hope you’ll join us on February 21+22 for The Justice Conference Portland. One can listen here to a talk I gave on February 13th at Multnomah University titled “Can Money Buy Justice?”

This piece is cross-posted at The Christian Post.

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