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What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

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Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we allow corporations to pay for the right to pollute the atmosphere? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars? Auctioning admission to elite universities? Selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay? In What Money Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we allow corporations to pay for the right to pollute the atmosphere? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars? Auctioning admission to elite universities? Selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay? In What Money Can't Buy, Michael J. Sandel takes on one of the biggest ethical questions of our time: Is there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don't belong? What are the moral limits of markets? In recent decades, market values have crowded out nonmarket norms in almost every aspect of life—medicine, education, government, law, art, sports, even family life and personal relations. Without quite realizing it, Sandel argues, we have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society. Is this where we want to be? In his New York Times bestseller Justice, Sandel showed himself to be a master at illuminating, with clarity and verve, the hard moral questions we confront in our everyday lives. Now, in What Money Can't Buy, he provokes an essential discussion that we, in our market-driven age, need to have: What is the proper role of markets in a democratic society—and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets don't honor and that money can't buy?


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Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we allow corporations to pay for the right to pollute the atmosphere? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars? Auctioning admission to elite universities? Selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay? In What Money Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we allow corporations to pay for the right to pollute the atmosphere? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars? Auctioning admission to elite universities? Selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay? In What Money Can't Buy, Michael J. Sandel takes on one of the biggest ethical questions of our time: Is there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don't belong? What are the moral limits of markets? In recent decades, market values have crowded out nonmarket norms in almost every aspect of life—medicine, education, government, law, art, sports, even family life and personal relations. Without quite realizing it, Sandel argues, we have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society. Is this where we want to be? In his New York Times bestseller Justice, Sandel showed himself to be a master at illuminating, with clarity and verve, the hard moral questions we confront in our everyday lives. Now, in What Money Can't Buy, he provokes an essential discussion that we, in our market-driven age, need to have: What is the proper role of markets in a democratic society—and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets don't honor and that money can't buy?

30 review for What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

  1. 5 out of 5

    knig

    Sandel is worried about the lack of moral limits of markets and posits that the time has come to hold a debate, as a society, that would enable us to decide, again as a society, where ‘markets serve the public good and where they don’t belong’. This to address the precipitous decline in moral values and the ensuing corruption when having a market economy morphs into ‘being’ a market economy. Objection. Since when, pray tell, have moral values been determined democratically in any society. What Sandel is worried about the lack of moral limits of markets and posits that the time has come to hold a debate, as a society, that would enable us to decide, again as a society, where ‘markets serve the public good and where they don’t belong’. This to address the precipitous decline in moral values and the ensuing corruption when having a market economy morphs into ‘being’ a market economy. Objection. Since when, pray tell, have moral values been determined democratically in any society. What ho. Moral values have traditionally, in the West, stemmed from God and the State. Its a top-bottom coalition approach. We don’t, after all, vote or legislate on morality. But yes, there is a general consensus that morality on the whole has become rather anorexic of late. To me its pretty clear why (later on this). To Sandel, its the markets wot done it. To this effect he starts off with a laborious exploration of queue jumping. Is it moral, or not, or maybe, um, just a little bit moral? Its no secret that the last two decades have witnessed a proliferation of a sale of rights to ‘jump the queue’. Disneyland, specially designated lanes on the highway, concierge doctors, concert ticket resales, airline checkins: OK. Is it morally right? Is it morally right to pay a hobo to stand in line for theatre tickets, thus depriving the less ‘meaned’ behind you of a ticket? Is it morally right to ‘scalp’ for healthcare therefore depriving, ostensibly, others of access? Is it morally right to resell/buy free papal mass tickets? The Inuit have quotas for ‘killing’ whales and walruses as a means for subsistence. Is it morally right to sell the quota to hunters who will pay you thousands to make the quota kill? How about paying a drug addicted woman to insert an IUD so she doesn’t bear drug babies year on year? Paying for a kidney? Paying for a baby? Is everything up for sale and is nothing sacred? By commoditising traditionally non market transactions are we not only corrupting our moral values which bind us as a society, but also corrupting our civic spirit, which as we know (and I concur) allows for gratuitous donation of services which would otherwise cost the state exuberantly and not only that, but would in fact decrease the value of the transaction by virtue of commoditising it. The latter is not an insignificant point. Despite lunatics like Keneth Arrow who claim that commercializing an activity doesn’t change it, I think even the layperson can hazard a guess that it ain’t so. Would it surprise anyone, and it didn’t surprise me that for example, US lawyers who were asked to reduce their fees for the needy refused to do so, yet agreed to do it pro-bono as charitable work? Clearly if you try to monetise a duty within the realm of civic ‘obligess’ it becomes a transaction to be valued commercially and the value of charity loses its weight. As Titmuss proved with blood donation studies people will give more voluntarily than when paid. Here is where Sandel flounders. And yes, I know he is a modern guru, commanding audiences of thousands upon thousands on any of his given lectures, and I am but a lowly lone voice and so who am I etc, and so forth. But yet. The problem I think is in distinguishing between the commoditisation of state/civic gratis orientated services and purely market ones. You can’t just lump them together. What Sandel is implying is that through market commoditisation we are getting a result whereby an individual who is willing to pay for a third world kidney and jumps the queue and kills a walrus will also refuse or refute a charitable donation (Blood. Giving up a seat for the elderly. Whatever) because he has become morally corrupted in general. I’m just not sure this is the case. We human beings are very good at compartmentalising. Plus, there is no evidence for it. Sandel is making a speculative jump in saying commercialisation crowds out public civic character. Traditionally this is not so. Were not Robber Barons charitable? Bloody hell, so were the Nazis. I think as long as the State doesn’t try to commodotise our civic responsibility, confusion shouldn’t arise. That was a second objection. Now on to my third. Lets look at the purely market transactions and see what that speaks about our morals. Now yes, marketisation crowds out morals: no doubt about it. It would be ludicrous to argue otherwise. The difference is Sandel laments, whereas I say, whats the point of keeping these values? Why shouldn’t they change? When Ibsen’s Doll house and Ghosts played to Europe at the turn of the century, he caused moral outrage. A woman dares to stand up to her husband? And, gasp, leave him? Well, we’ve seen the back of that morality, alright, and I don’t think anyone laments its passing. Back to the queue jumping. Clearly Sandel finds it reprehensible. Wheres it going to end? We all queue for buses and loos, right, are we going to fast track that as well? Yes, I say. We should. Why didn’t I think of that before? This queuing business. Is it a KPI of a morally functioning society? What about the countries that don’t have it? I have personally been stranded at bus queues in India, Thailand and Macedonia where the notion didn’t exist. The bus comes and it is engulfed in a human wave of 360 degrees, a perfect circle, soundwave, whaetever. Are these people morally corrupt, then because they don’t queue but fight?? Ignoramuses? Is a queue a moral stratagem? What is Sandel getting at? Its not that a queue is a marker for morality. I believe its lack though is, an indicator for a failed state. A queue is a control mechanism, not a moral attitude. If you have a market where buses ‘come in threes’, its easy to implement a queue system. You didn’t catch the bus? Oh shucks. Next one is in ten minutes. But how about this is the evening bus. You didn’t catch it? See you tomorrow, same bat place, same bat time. Lets see if Darwinism doesn’t kick in, then. This might be what Sandel is worried about: a sort of Ballardian breakdown in society where we start behaving like animals because commoditisation is allowing queue jumping. But that simply isn’t the case. Yet. Queue jumping in the West has NOT displaced access. It has merely restructured it. Yet it niggles him. Why can’t we all wait equally in line? This is, at the crux of it, what this guy really wants. It reinforces his ideas of fairness. Which he ties to morality. On a superficial level, he is going to garner die hard supporters. Lets face it, we’re all waiting in line for a Starbucks, and some brazen twit cuts the line: kill him, right? Faugh. What we are really saying is, ‘don’t fuck with OUR market’. But here is the problem as I see it. Traditionally, we have not had a SINGLE market. One where rich and poor congregate and battle it out. Recently I went on a London Tours walk. We stopped outside a picturesque pub in Chelsea. ‘Bear in Mind’, the tour guide said, ‘that pubs were traditionally the ‘fayre’ of the working classes. The nobility went to their private clubs or drank at home at dinner parties’. Well. Thats two market right there. The proletariat could be egalitarian about who was served in what order at the pub, since they were all homogenous. The aristocracy had a separate market. Nowadays we combine the two. We all want to go to Disneyland. Is it surprising that the rich find ways to appropriate the market? We simply didn’t ‘see’ it before, but it existed. What Sandel laments as market penetration was simply separate markets in the past. It has always existed and coincided harmoniously with an overarching morality. The ultimate problem really is not that markets are immoral (which they are not) nor that they are crowding out morality (which they are, and have always done so). Reigning in markets to preserve fossilised values and morals can not be the answer: it is not sustainable. Morals NEED to change: they have always done so despite each generation’s passionate clinging on and lament. The problem is that crowded out morals aren’t being replenished as they were in the past. With the Church depleted and the State worried about not being a ‘nanny’ or ‘Big Brother’, with a globalisation and competing moral codes, there is no one left on the arena to define the goal posts, and so crowding out, which has always happened, I suspect, now leaves a wasteland in its wake as no new universal morals are phoenixing to replenish the loss.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    I praise Michael Sandel for pillorying markets when they traffic in morally objectionable goods and services. But economists have admitted the amorality of markets. Markets do the best job of allocating scarcity but make no claim as to the worthiness of the good or service allocated to begin with. And so, yes, markets need limits, but this does not diminish the appropriateness of using a market based approach for morally neutral or beneficial goods and services. Sandel spends too much of the I praise Michael Sandel for pillorying markets when they traffic in morally objectionable goods and services. But economists have admitted the amorality of markets. Markets do the best job of allocating scarcity but make no claim as to the worthiness of the good or service allocated to begin with. And so, yes, markets need limits, but this does not diminish the appropriateness of using a market based approach for morally neutral or beneficial goods and services. Sandel spends too much of the book devoted to colorful anecdotes of the moral repugnance of certain markets in order to draw his readers in. I found the examples a bit much and wanted more theory and substance as to when markets should not function and instead another mechanism should surface. Nor does Sandel devote much text to the viable alternatives to markets. I also found Sandel's conclusion hypocritical. He writes toward the end "something similar has been happening throughout our society. At a time of rising inequality, the marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives. We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools ... It's not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live. Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of everyday life. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good." This sounds compelling but then look closer and you find Sandel himself teaches at Harvard University and surrounds himself with the likes of Larry Summers and Greg Mankew. Why not take his teachings and message and convey them in a community college or public university rather than Harvard? Why not consort with the hoi polloi rather than Summers and Mankew? In its competitive admission process as a student and faculty member, Harvard itself perpetuates the separation that Sandel claims to lament and in fact top-quality higher education institutions such as Harvard have led to greater inequality rather than less in the past generation. I found pockets of elitism and superiority even in his own text supposing to denigrate these values and ultimately finished his book feeling unsatisfied.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany Conner

    Not to brag or anything (or maybe just to brag a little), but I actually knew of Michael Sandel's scholarship way before he wrote Justice, a book I didn't even read, but which achieved international acclaim and thus gave Sandel that coveted status of Superstar Public Intellectual. My introduction to Sandel's work was Democracy's Discontent. I did read the excerpt of What Money Can't Buy in the The Atlantic and enjoyed it. But I don't know that Dr. Sandel needed an entire book to make his Not to brag or anything (or maybe just to brag a little), but I actually knew of Michael Sandel's scholarship way before he wrote Justice, a book I didn't even read, but which achieved international acclaim and thus gave Sandel that coveted status of Superstar Public Intellectual. My introduction to Sandel's work was Democracy's Discontent. I did read the excerpt of What Money Can't Buy in the The Atlantic and enjoyed it. But I don't know that Dr. Sandel needed an entire book to make his argument, even if it is a very important one: There are some places where markets need not be. This is not to say that there is not sometimes a time and place for markets and market principles, but to become so transfixed with market ideology as to believe that it should be permitted untrammeled access into every realm of our lives is to risk the commodification and trivialization of those very things which should be sacred. Doing what's right should not become doing what's right because it's what the market decides. Too many still fail to acknowledge that markets don't always make things better, in fact they sometimes make things worse. The balance of power coming into markets isn't always equal. The motivations people may have for giving themselves up to market forces aren't universal. Sometimes people accept what may appear to be the best the market can offer out or sheer desperation, not because it is the best option. As such, it is wrong to treat markets as assured and benevolent founts of opportunity. Markets can and do exploit imbalances and inequality. Sandel's argument is most compelling when he makes the case that this type of thinking runs the risk of permanently making us a two-tiered society, the haves versus the have-nots. It's already happening. The question for Sandel is how far are we willing to let it go? Still, Sandel often resorts to repeating himself to make his argument. And that can become a bit tiresome. Luckily, the book is short, his writing is definitely not over-academic, but his concern about the issue is apparent. I much prefer Robert Reich's writing on these subjects, but Sandel's written a good book. I'd recommend checking a copy out from the library and giving it a go.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cynnamon

    In this short book Michael Sandel writes about the growing commodification of social life. He raises the question if we should want a market economy of a market society and shows how market mechanisms take over parts of our lifes that definitely shouldn't be for sale. The book contains a plethora of well described examples and clear explanations why it seems wrong to ignore moral aspects. There are many detailed reviews available, therefore this review is short, because I could only repeat what was In this short book Michael Sandel writes about the growing commodification of social life. He raises the question if we should want a market economy of a market society and shows how market mechanisms take over parts of our lifes that definitely shouldn't be for sale. The book contains a plethora of well described examples and clear explanations why it seems wrong to ignore moral aspects. There are many detailed reviews available, therefore this review is short, because I could only repeat what was already written (and probably better than I could) by other reviewers.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    Michael Sandel is Professor of Government at Harvard University, the teacher of the acclaimed course on Justice that has been expanded into a public online course and that formed the basis for Sandel’s critically praised book by the same title. In this present book, Sandel examines the intrusion of market thinking into more and more aspects of contemporary life. “Today, almost everything is up for sale.” Increasingly, we allow market values to govern more and more parts of our lives. The Michael Sandel is Professor of Government at Harvard University, the teacher of the acclaimed course on Justice that has been expanded into a public online course and that formed the basis for Sandel’s critically praised book by the same title. In this present book, Sandel examines the intrusion of market thinking into more and more aspects of contemporary life. “Today, almost everything is up for sale.” Increasingly, we allow market values to govern more and more parts of our lives. The commodification of everything is occurring, and everything is becoming valued by market values. Even the financial crash of 2008, which shook our faith in this, has not ultimately changed the trajectory of our values. The cause of this was not just greed but also our assumption that everything should be subservient to the market. A dialogue is needed to explore what aspects of our lives should not be driven by market principles. “Not all goods are properly valued in this way.” “We (have) drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.” We need to address whether this is ultimately healthy and sustainable by engaging in the question about the morality of markets. This debate and conversation is largely absent from our public discourse, resulting in disillusion with politics. Some say that the problem is too much moral fervor in our public discourse, but Sandel argues that there is too little; it is “mostly vacant, empty of moral and spiritual content.” “This nonjudgmental stance toward values lies at the heart of market reasoning and explains much of its appeal.” We need to “decide, as a society, where markets serve the public good and where they don’t belong.” “The moral and political challenge we face today is …to rethink the role and reach of markets in our social practices, human relationships, and everyday lives.” Using the practice of “jumping the queue” – paying to jump ahead at airport security, board the plane first, go to the head of the line at the amusement park, see a “concierge practice” physician – Sandel argues that the ethic of the queue (first come, first served) is being replaced by the ethic of the market (you get what you pay for). Economists often defend this as a perfect market model, price being set by what one is willing to pay and therefore by how one values a good or service. But it neglects to factor in what one can afford to pay, what one has available to pay, which is not the same as what one would be willing to pay if one could. Market utilitarianism cannot always be the basis for such behavior, since utilitarian considerations are not the only ones that matter. Situations vary, and sometimes the value of queues matters more than markets. Sometimes “turning access to a good or service into a product for sale demeans and degrades it.” This corrupts it by treating it “according to a lower mode of valuation than is appropriate to it.” Examples might include scalping tickets to campsites at Yosemite, thus auctioning access to places of natural wonder and beauty, or scalping tickets for access to a Papal mass which devalues the spiritual aspect of the experience, or paying place-holders in a line for access to a Congressional hearing which devalues the civic experience of participatory democracy. The civic value of “waiting one’s turn” can be undermined to the detriment of society as a whole. There is no question that over the past three decades the tendency for markets to displace queues has accelerated. Turning to the idea of incentives, Sandel discusses cash-for-sterilization programs directed at drug addicted mothers, and he argues that these may be inappropriate venues for the application of market values and forces because it may be argued that such approaches are coercive or bribes, in either case not fully reflecting freedom of choice. Reiterating that “we corrupt a good, activity, or social practice whenever we treat it according to a lower norm than is appropriate to it,” some people might legitimately argue that reproductive capacity should not be a tool for monetary gain. Whether one agrees with that position or not, “before we can decide whether market relations are appropriate to such domains, we have to figure out what norms should govern our sexual and procreative lives.” Increasingly, economists find themselves entangled in moral issues and questions, in part a reflection of how they have come to understand their discipline as market-oriented thinking increasingly intruding into areas of life traditionally beyond its scope. Now economists find themselves moving beyond a concern with issues related to the production and consumption of material goods and into a study of human behavior in much broader ways. Now “everything has its price.” We begin to view the law of supply and demand as applying to all aspects of existence. “To a remarkable degree, the last few decades have witnessed the remaking of social relations in the image of market relations. One measure of this transformation is the growing use of monetary incentives to solve social problems.” Examples include paying students (or teachers) for good grades, the results of which have been equivocal at best, and paying patients to change adverse health habits or conditions such as smoking or obesity. Characterized as bribery by some critics, such programs do raise the issue of whether people are altering their behavior for the right reasons and whether such rewards condition them to expect such rewards for their behavior. Monetary rewards may “crowd out other, better motives,” and they raise the question about whether better behaviors do or will continue after the monetary incentive is gone. “Bribes are manipulative…and trick us into doing something we should be doing anyhow…The bribe may become habit forming,” and undesirable behavior “may return when the incentives end.” “Whether an incentive ‘works’ depends on the goal. And the goal, properly conceived, may include values and attitudes that cash incentives undermine.” The market is not always an innocent instrument because it can induce perverse incentives. Paying children to read books or get good grades may lead them to avoid doing these things unless they are paid. Tying immigration or refugee status to willingness to pay seems inherently unfair, causing ability to pay rather than willingness to pay to be the determining factor. “Markets are not mere mechanisms. They embody certain norms…certain ways of valuing the goods being exchanged.” It is untrue that markets do not taint the goods they regulate. “Often, market incentives erode or crowd out nonmarket incentives.” Fines sometimes transition to being considered fees, and the consequence may be contrary to the original intent in that the wealthy are willing to pay for the privilege of engaging in socially undesirable behavior. Examples might be the exceeding of speed limits or the parking in places designated for the handicapped. This leads to the flouting of the norms that fines express. “To decide whether a fine or a fee is appropriate, we have to figure out the purpose of the social institution in question and the norms that should govern it.” Discussing the policy of tradable procreation permits, Sandel raises the issue of unfairness: “If having children is a central aspect of human flourishing, then it’s unfair to condition access of this good on the ability of pay.” And this does not even address the issue of bribery, an issue that corrupts in that it “promotes a mercenary attitude toward children that corrupts parenthood.” A similar dilemma exists with regard to tradable pollution permits, converting a penalty into simply a fee. Taxing pollution avoids this dilemma but is politically difficult to enact. A global market in pollution permits “entrenches an instrumental attitude toward nature…and it undermines the spirit of shared sacrifice that may be necessary to create a global environmental ethic.” Carbon offsets raise somewhat similar issues, absolving those who buy them from further responsibility. The point is “that markets reflect and promote certain norms…We must also ask whether market norms will crowd out nonmarket norms, and if so, whether this represents a loss worth caring about.” Such questions should be raised and answered before a market incentive scheme is put into place. The language of incentives “is a recent development in economic thought,” and it “casts the economist in an activist role,” a far cry from Adam Smith’s image of the market. Economics is no longer a value-free science without involvement in moral and political philosophical implications. Most economists today base their arguments on social utility, but “utilitarianism is open to some familiar objections.” In this arena, “the standard price effect may not hold.” Increasingly we must “make a moral assessment: What is the moral importance of the attitudes and norms that money may erode or crowd out?” “The economist has to ‘traffic in morality’ after all.” Markets can crowd out morals. There are some things that money can’t buy – friendship, a Nobel Prize, baseball’s MVP award – and if it could these things would be devalued. What about organ or baby selling? In these cases, the good may be “arguably degraded, or corrupted, or diminished as a result.” Why? Sandel uses intermediate issues to explore such questions. Purchased apologies or purchased wedding toasts might reduce the value of the expressions. Money in place of a thoughtful gift might point to values in gift-giving such as personal thoughtfulness or creative intimacy, and these are moral questions in that they reflect values that we hold personally or as a society; gift-giving may in fact not just be about utility. “The economic case against gift-giving is not morally neutral.” “Commodifying [some] practices displaces [some] norms – sympathy, generosity, thoughtfulness, attentiveness – and replaces them with market values.” “Two kinds of arguments reverberate through debates about what money should and should not buy – the fairness objection…and the corruption objection.” The first raises the issue of whether choices are truly free, and the second raises the issue of whether values are degraded by market valuation and exchange. These objections “differ in their implications for markets.” The first “offers no basis for objecting to the commodification of goods in a society whose background conditions are fair.” “The corruption argument by contrast, focuses on the character of the goods themselves and the norms that should govern them…This is because markets are not mere mechanisms; they embody certain values.” “A growing body of research confirms what common sense suggests: financial incentives and other market mechanisms can backfire by crowding out nonmarket values.” In Switzerland, village residents decreased their rate of acceptance of their village as a nuclear waste disposal site when they were offered financial incentives rather than appeals to civic duty. Public goods like parks were a more effective incentive than cash. Similar findings have been noted with charitable fund-raising and late day-care pickups. Such crowding out of nonmarket norms have adverse effects both fiscal and ethical. “When people are engaged in an activity they consider intrinsically worthwhile, offering them money may weaken their motivation by depreciating or ‘crowding out’ their intrinsic interest or commitment.” Such has occurred with the donating/sale of blood in the US vs the UK, where all blood is given by donation. Economists often argue in favor of monetary incentives and market norms on the basis of their assertion that altruism and generosity are scarce resources that are depleted with continual use. The metaphor is misleading. These are not depleted with use but in fact grow stronger, and “to renew our public life we need to exercise them more strenuously.” During the 1990s, companies began buying life insurance policies on their employees, often without the employees knowing about it, assigning the companies as beneficiaries. Thus, “life insurance morphed from a safety net for the bereaved into a strategy of corporate finance.” This is “hardly conducive to workplace safety.” Why might this be morally objectionable? Perhaps because of lack of consent. And “partly it’s the attitude of companies toward workers embodied in such policies.” It certainly distorts the tradition purpose of life insurance, a source of security for families. The “viatical industry” consists in paying people with AIDS and other terminal diseases to purchase life insurance policies naming the investor as beneficiary. This creates a moral complication in that “the investor must hope that the person whose life insurance he buys dies sooner rather than later.” Perhaps the moral dilemma lies “in the corrosive effect on the character of the investor.” Likewise, betting “death pools,” often online, are being created to bet on the longevity of public figures. The life insurance industry, according to Sandel, has long existed in a morally ambiguous twilight zone, justified primarily by the benefit to surviving families who might be destitute without such resources. Current trends trivialize this issue. Currently there are developing such betting pools related to the possibilities of terrorist events. “Life insurance is becoming…an instrument of speculation.” Such speculative policies are now being bundled and sold as bonds, much as occurred in the mortgage market a few years ago. “Sometimes we decide to live with a morally corrosive market practice for the sake of the social good it provides…As today’s massive market in life and death attests, the hard-fought effort to disentangle insurance from gambling has come undone.” Sandel then turns to naming rights in college and professional sports, citing the naming of stadiums for a fee. Other example of injecting financial incentives is the marketing of professional autographs and gear, and the building and sale of skyboxes that undermine the egalitarian experience of viewing sporting events. “Such rise of memorabilia markets, naming rights, and skyboxes in recent decades reflects our market-driven society.” “Making markets more efficient is no virtue in itself. The real question is whether introducing this or that market mechanism will improve or impair the good of the game.” Recent trends in advertising everywhere have intensified. We see ads in elevators, on buses and subway stations, in toilet stalls and above urinals. Advertising intrudes into the narrative of books, in e-book readers, in airplanes, even onto the sides of houses facing foreclosures. Human bodies are rented out as billboards. “Many people view the explosion of naming rights and advertising with distaste, even alarm.” “Yet…it is not easy to explain what is wrong with [this] proliferation of advertising.” Many do, however, find a world in which everything is for sail profoundly unsettling. “To describe what’s disquieting…we need the moral vocabulary of corruption and degradation, [and that] is to appeal, implicitly at least, to conceptions of the good life.” “In order to decide where advertising belongs…we have to argue about the meaning of social practices and the goods they embody, [asking] whether commercializing the practice would degrade it.” “The analogy to pollution is apt.” “The ‘defilement’ is…of the common world that we inhabit, increasingly dominated by market values and commercial sensibilities.” “Municipal marketing” has now spread to commercial naming rights of public beaches, parks, and city-owned buildings, to subway stations and nature trails, to advertising on police cars and fire hydrants, to “sponsorship” in jails and public schools. Such “rampant commercialization of schools is corrupting [because] most corporate-sponsored curricular material is ridden with bias, distortion, and superficial fare…and it is at odds with the purpose of schools [which is to teach students] to reflect critically on their desires, to restrain or to elevate them. The purpose of advertising is to recruit consumers; the purpose of public schools is to cultivate citizens.” “Imprinting things with corporate logos changes their meaning.” Sandel concludes, “These are, I admit, contestable judgments.” People can disagree with these assertions and examples. “But that’s my point: once we see that markets and commerce change the character of the goods they touch, we have to ask where markets belong – and where they don’t. And we can’t answer this question without deliberating about the meaning and purpose of goods, and the values that should govern them. Such deliberations touch, unavoidably, on competing conceptions of the good life…For fear of disagreement, we hesitate to bring our moral and spiritual convictions into the public square. But shrinking from these questions does not leave them undecided. It simply means that markets will decide for us…We need to ask a bigger question, about the kind of society in which we wish to live. [The market] appropriates the common world [and] diminishes its public character... [eroding] commonality.” “The marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives. It’s not good for democracy, not is it a satisfying way to live…Democracy…requires that citizens share a common life…that people of different backgrounds and social position encounter one another…in the course of everyday life. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good. And so, in the end, the question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together. Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?” Sandel invites us to reflection and conversation. However we feel about these questions, and whatever conclusions we individually and collectively may reach, the conversation is important.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Haplea

    It is an easy reading book about the continuous progressive encroachment of free market mechanisms of putting a price on everything, into ethical values and into the common patrimony of society. The author is showing by examples how in the last decades in the global capitalist world, little by little, everything has become for buying or sale: surrogate mothers, human organs and blood, politicians, children, the right to pollute, honor, integrity, power and even the manipulation of collective It is an easy reading book about the continuous progressive encroachment of free market mechanisms of putting a price on everything, into ethical values and into the common patrimony of society. The author is showing by examples how in the last decades in the global capitalist world, little by little, everything has become for buying or sale: surrogate mothers, human organs and blood, politicians, children, the right to pollute, honor, integrity, power and even the manipulation of collective consciousness. Also how sacred property of an entire nation like underground water, mineral resources, fauna and flora, national healthcare and education systems, legislative power, etc. are gradually and legally sold to private investors to the detriment of future generations. As the author demonstrates by concrete examples, putting a price on civic and ethical values and letting them be for sale, destroys them permanently to the benefit of no one. For example, buying access to Ivy League colleges only diminishes their reputation and value of the degrees issued and saps the public beliefs in academic merits. What happens to a society left out of any civic virtues when she needs all of them in order to survive inside or outside attacks? From the book content, there is no foreseeable defense against this trend and the future of capitalist societies looks bleak, a kind of a dark era of a new kind. I know that 300 years ago, it was acceptable to buy a colonel rank in the army for a boy of six years old, to buy humans as slaves, to buy entire colonies with inhabitants with all, to buy public office with gold, and so on, but I thought we at a global level have put this behind, not that we have dialectically returned to it on a superior level. To me this book is showing another side of unregulated capitalism, one that by itself is sufficient cause for its future bankruptcy. I recommend the book because in the first place it is an easy reading and secondly because it makes the reader more aware to the ugliness of present trends in our society. It is always good to know the world you are living in.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Son Tung

    256 pages ? I feel like 500 pages. This book has many many many examples of how Market Thinking creeps into our society. Human always use cost/benefit analysis for all kind of things, but often without comprehension of the big picture and consequences. There are many public goods and human endeavors should not be taken lightly and empathy is something not to be messed with. The often heard mantra “Money cannot solve everything” rings true and clear when the author examines what was and is 256 pages ? I feel like 500 pages. This book has many many many examples of how Market Thinking creeps into our society. Human always use cost/benefit analysis for all kind of things, but often without comprehension of the big picture and consequences. There are many public goods and human endeavors should not be taken lightly and empathy is something not to be messed with. The often heard mantra “Money cannot solve everything” rings true and clear when the author examines what was and is happening in our economy and society. Many of those I found disgusted and terrifying. Market thinking is useful but dependent on what kind of good and how we value the good. This frequently lead to 1) Coercive effect on people with disadvantages (to violate freedom of choice, fairness especially when the victim has less bargaining power due to addiction, poverty…) 2) Corruption effect: To corrupt is to degrade the intended value of certain goods and practice. It is not simply to bride the judge for a verdict but it can be the perception of Fee instead of Fine (When people treat a policy as a fee rather than intended fine, they tend to exaggerate the problem) To maximize social value: market thinking won’t guarantee that. The willingness to pay for something does not mean who value it most highly, market price reflects the willingness and ability to pay. Those pay most highly for the Shakespeare’s ticket may not value it high at all. Below is the list of numerous examples I took noted. These examples scatter throughout the book: Money = better condition (but most go off ethical limit and value of other human): Pay to get jail cell privilege, Pay to have lower waiting time for doctor, health care, Pay people to queue for you, Pay to have driving lanes for vehicles during rush hours, Pay to immigrate to the US for the wealthy foreigners. Pay service to write apologies, wedding toast. Pay to have surrogate mother to carry pregnancy. Government pays patient to take drugs, women to sterilize, vaccinate, quit smoking. Pay to have rights from South African goverment to hunt & kill limited number of rhinos to keep incentive to protect endangered species. Pay to have gift card instead of real gift or other forms of gift. Pay to be admitted to University, we should not forget that it’s about Institutional Integrity. Higher education not only equips students for remunerative jobs, it also embodies certain ideals, the pursuit of truths, the promotion of scholarly and scientific excellence, the advance of humane teaching and learning, the cultivation of civic virtues. Pay to advertise everywhere: Ads encourage people to desire and want things, not to reflect critically on what they desire, to restrain or to elevate those desires. Pay poor people to advertise with tattoo on visible body parts, their houses, cars, even police cars. Ads on public transportation, public parks, jails, school’s tv commercials… Pay kids to read book. If kids later find out that they love reading books, good. Otherwise, nahhh.. Pay to collect kids late. The case of Israeli school: The school introduced a fine for picking up kids late for the parents. It turns out to be a good deal for those parents, they simply consider it’s a fee to come late. Pay to have sky box in university stadium, therefore separate people and possible affect the spirit of togetherness. Pay Swiss citizen to have nuclear facility near residential area. The result is the refusal to have such a thing. Instead, if just ask citizen to have it for public good, they agree. Morally distasteful examples: Janitor insurance (Walmart in 90s): pay 5000$ for employee to have death insurance without them knowing that the corporation gets the millions when an employee dies from insurance company. This act treats people as commodity futures rather than employees and destroys the purpose of life insurance: for family of the insured, not a tax break for corporation. A viatical settlement (from the Latin "viaticum") is the sale of a policy owner's existing life insurance policy to a third party for more than its cash surrender value, but less than its net death benefit. Such a sale provides the policy owner with a lump sum. Investor pays money for the soon-dying patient for a return. Ex: Patient has 100.000$ life insurance but cannot receive money until death, Investors offer to buy that insurance by paying money up front with value less than the 100.000$. If the patient dies within expected time, investor has the handsome profit > Investor may want the patient die sooner. Death Pool betting game: Bet on when a celebrity will die. or bet on when abandoned 800 German refugees in London 1975 will die.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mike Edwards

    Sandel here gets all the big things right--and a shockingly large number of the little things wrong. His main thesis is absolutely correct: the introduction of money and markets can fundamentally change the character or nature of a particular transaction. Sandel is correct that society often does not fully appreciate this basic fact--which causes us to use monetary incentives in ways that can be more detrimental than beneficial. Most of the time, but not all of the time. Sandel states that he's Sandel here gets all the big things right--and a shockingly large number of the little things wrong. His main thesis is absolutely correct: the introduction of money and markets can fundamentally change the character or nature of a particular transaction. Sandel is correct that society often does not fully appreciate this basic fact--which causes us to use monetary incentives in ways that can be more detrimental than beneficial. Most of the time, but not all of the time. Sandel states that he's just trying to start a conversation, to get people to appreciate the non-monetary costs of monetizing a particular transaction or situation. That is a laudable goal. But his tone is universally judgmental; sometimes absurdly so. His criticism of Billy Beane's A's for making walks more prevalent literally made my jaw drop; he literally used teams playing smarter baseball as an excuse to lambaste economics. Moreover, his criticism of economics (in particular) and social science (in general) tends towards the dogmatic. He mostly cites fifty-year-old economics texts that grandfathered rational choice theory, and holds them us as emblematic of the discipline; a discipline which has become much more nuanced over the years, in part because of the types of criticisms that Sandel gives. Economics and Rat Choice Theory do certainly have their problems, but an inability to understand why people give gifts is not one of them. (Certain rat choice models, given their assumptions, cannot take that behavior into account--but most economists would agree that this is a problem with those particular models not a problem with the gift-giver, and certainly not a problem with all of Economics.) Finally, Sandel asserts that the general "marketization" of society is a recent phenomenon, really since the 1980s. I remain unconvinced. There are plenty of examples of these types of phenomenon before 1980--Sandel himself cites some of them--and so all we're left with is Sandel's assertions that things really have gotten worse. That's an easy, and easily believed, assertion--it's why politicians make it all the time. But asserting that things have gotten worse is a long way from demonstrating it to be true--and Sandel doesn't come close to the latter. So to summarize: Great Thesis, Sloppy and Biased Reasoning.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lea

    Sandel's modest proposal is that there are some things in the world that cannot (by definition) be bought and some things that no one should be able to be sell and buy for other reasons. He does a pretty good job at it, it's easy to follow and full of examples. It's not written as a text book but for the everyday reader. My only gripe with this book is that the premise seems so obvious to me, that there wasn't much new to be learnt. However, I found some of his arguments useful. Personally I'm Sandel's modest proposal is that there are some things in the world that cannot (by definition) be bought and some things that no one should be able to be sell and buy for other reasons. He does a pretty good job at it, it's easy to follow and full of examples. It's not written as a text book but for the everyday reader. My only gripe with this book is that the premise seems so obvious to me, that there wasn't much new to be learnt. However, I found some of his arguments useful. Personally I'm much more capitalism-skeptical than he is in this book. But for the purpose of his modest argument it probably wouldn't be a good idea to go full on anti-capitalism anyway.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carsten

    Five stars for the topic and bringing it to the attention of the public. The topic of how far reaching we as a society want markets to be is a highly important one and it is had much too little, actually not at all I would say. Markets have become the myths of our time, they never fail and are always right and because of that they should have a broader reach. That is the typical argument but is that really the case? Do we want as a society be fully market driven? Where the book could have been Five stars for the topic and bringing it to the attention of the public. The topic of how far reaching we as a society want markets to be is a highly important one and it is had much too little, actually not at all I would say. Markets have become the myths of our time, they never fail and are always right and because of that they should have a broader reach. That is the typical argument but is that really the case? Do we want as a society be fully market driven? Where the book could have been better is on being shorter and longer at the same time. Shorter in the way that the same arguments didn't need to be repeated as many times. Longer in way of identifying more of a decision framework o identify when the market solution works and when it doesn't. But to me beyond those shortcomings an important book and for that the five stars.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rahul Jain

    What a beautiful little book. As a child I used to wonder why does only life insurance companies used to have agents specifically, and why there was always a hint of distance and discomfort from those people. Although the book is US specific in certain topics, it remains fluid to read, covering a broad range of topics and poses interesting question on our notion of what we think is sacrosanct in life. The chapter on gifts is quite relieving - I always found giving cash very distasteful - it's good What a beautiful little book. As a child I used to wonder why does only life insurance companies used to have agents specifically, and why there was always a hint of distance and discomfort from those people. Although the book is US specific in certain topics, it remains fluid to read, covering a broad range of topics and poses interesting question on our notion of what we think is sacrosanct in life. The chapter on gifts is quite relieving - I always found giving cash very distasteful - it's good to discover that gifts don't make economical sense, and all the more are better for it - the anti-utilitarian nature of the gift (in a very personal and specific manner) is what ensures the 'giftiness' of the gift. I would have loved if he would have explored the topic further. The discussion on blood donation system is quite interesting - while UK (and India as well) follows the voluntary donation system, US allows monetary compensation for blood donors, yet remains deficit in blood supplies (and worse of than UK), and poorer healthcare. Life insurance is about mitigating risk for us, and a gamble for those selling it - when it crosses boundaries is only a matter of numbers. Definitely recommended.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ahmed Hussein Shaheen

    "Something similar has been happening throughout our society. At a time of rising inequality, the marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives. We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools. You might call it the skyboxification of American life. It’s not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live. Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that "Something similar has been happening throughout our society. At a time of rising inequality, the marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives. We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools. You might call it the skyboxification of American life. It’s not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live. Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of everyday life. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good. And so, in the end, the question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together. Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?"

  13. 5 out of 5

    Robert Wechsler

    This is one of the most important books that has come out in the last few years. It is about how the norms that accompany a free market approach are inappropriate to many spheres of life, such as public service, access to government officials, and the distribution of government resources. I focus on government, because I write about government ethics. But Sandel looks at other spheres of life, as well. The ideas Sandel expresses here are anathema to libertarians, who consistently apply a free This is one of the most important books that has come out in the last few years. It is about how the norms that accompany a free market approach are inappropriate to many spheres of life, such as public service, access to government officials, and the distribution of government resources. I focus on government, because I write about government ethics. But Sandel looks at other spheres of life, as well. The ideas Sandel expresses here are anathema to libertarians, who consistently apply a free market approach to everything. "Money is speech" involves a confusion of norms that libertarians do not acknowledge. Nor do they acknowledge that lobbying for money used to be considered inappropriate not only by citizens, but by American courts. If you've never thought about things in this way, you should read this book. If you want to see the variety of areas where this approach applies, ditto.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Don

    The problem with this book is, when you put it down, you walk around looking at the world saying, "Why the hell is THAT considered a marketable part of life?!" "And THAT! What the heck is going on here? It all just snuck up on us... and we lost." Seriously, this is a very interesting read that is a real eye-opener. The skyboxification of America, separating EVERYTHING via the lens of "what would somebody pay for THIS," and what can money NOT buy -- rather, SHOULD not be able to buy -- are The problem with this book is, when you put it down, you walk around looking at the world saying, "Why the hell is THAT considered a marketable part of life?!" "And THAT! What the heck is going on here? It all just snuck up on us... and we lost." Seriously, this is a very interesting read that is a real eye-opener. The skyboxification of America, separating EVERYTHING via the lens of "what would somebody pay for THIS," and what can money NOT buy -- rather, SHOULD not be able to buy -- are substantial issues that Sandel wrestles with. He doesn't provide many answers, other than to suggest that we ought to be aware of the trade-offs we are making in society, and have at least some input as these decisions are being made for us. Does everything have to have a price tag? Everything? Why or why not?!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kate Lawrence

    Anyone who is dismayed to see the unprecedented reach of advertising, corporate naming rights of public venues, and monetary payments for behavior formerly expected without incentives--like getting good grades or standing in line--will be glad to see an examination of how far markets should be allowed to penetrate our society. And those who haven't noticed these things can use the book to catch up. Sandel, a Harvard professor of government, doesn't strive to make a particular case, however. In Anyone who is dismayed to see the unprecedented reach of advertising, corporate naming rights of public venues, and monetary payments for behavior formerly expected without incentives--like getting good grades or standing in line--will be glad to see an examination of how far markets should be allowed to penetrate our society. And those who haven't noticed these things can use the book to catch up. Sandel, a Harvard professor of government, doesn't strive to make a particular case, however. In this the book was different from most I read about social issues, in which the author is trying to persuade the reader to a certain viewpoint. Instead, Sandel just wants the reader to take a close look at how much of our social commons is now for sale, and to reflect about whether benefits outweigh losses. The book is helpful, and the fact that he wrote it and teaches courses about the subject demonstrates his concern, but I would have welcomed a little more passion.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Yevgeniy Brikman

    An important read for everyone. The key question in this book: what should and shouldn't be for sale? The book goes through many examples, some genuinely shocking, of how market dynamics are gradually expanding into more and more of our lives, and other than a few exceptions (e.g., we've created laws against buying and selling people—i.e., slavery), there seems to be no end in sight. But should there be? Should we draw a line somewhere? What are the moral implications when everything is for An important read for everyone. The key question in this book: what should and shouldn't be for sale? The book goes through many examples, some genuinely shocking, of how market dynamics are gradually expanding into more and more of our lives, and other than a few exceptions (e.g., we've created laws against buying and selling people—i.e., slavery), there seems to be no end in sight. But should there be? Should we draw a line somewhere? What are the moral implications when everything is for sale? The author does a great job of exploring both the benefits and drawbacks of markets, presenting logical, balanced, well-reasoned arguments for both sides. There are no easy answers to these questions; the real value of this book is that it forces you to consider the questions in the first place! Some of the key insights I got from this book: 1. One of the fundamental flaws with treating everything as a market—with making everything for sale—is that it results in certain things being valued the wrong way. - Example: allowing markets in human beings (i.e., slavery) treats humans as commodities to be bought and sold, rather than as people who have rights and needs. - When a person is seen as a commodity, we are valuing that person the wrong way. This leads to exploitation, discrimination, abuse, and suffering. - Even the most ardent laissez-faire capitalist would most likely agree that some things, such as slavery, should be off limits to markets. - The question in this book is what other things become valued the wrong way as a result of markets and therefore should be equally off limits? 2. Another way that markets may cause something to be valued the wrong way is when putting the item up for sale demeans or corrupts it. - Example: a small town puts on a public concert, with the intent of making it accessible to everyone for free (i.e., the concert is a gift to the residents of the town). To get a ticket, you must wait in line. Rich people can subvert this system by paying others to wait in line for them (there are entire companies that will provide you with "line waiters"!). The result: instead of the tickets being equally accessible to everyone in town on a random basis, most of the tickets go to rich people, which demeans or corrupts the original intent of the concert. - Example: you can't pay someone to do jury duty on your behalf, as it corrupts the legal process. - Example: you can't sell your vote, as it corrupts the election process. - Example: the government can't sell tickets to public hearings (e.g., in a court or senate), as selling seats to a public hearing corrupts the purpose of the hearing. The intent of a public hearing is to make the information available to everyone; if you sell tickets, the intent turns to one of personal profit, and making the information available only to the rich. - Example: emergency rooms treat patients in order of severity and risk to life, rather than ability to pay. If rich people were treated first in ERs, that would corrupt the hippocratic oath. - Example: selling green cards for money (e.g., US offers them for $500,000). This corrupts the idea of immigration and the American dream as something accessible to everyone and replaces it with a system where you can buy the American dream. - Example: many public schools in the US are selling sponsorships. For example, the coal industry has sponsored textbooks and learning materials for one school; not surprisingly, these materials teach all about the coal industry and its value, with no mention of climate change or other downsides. We've corrupted our teaching materials from those that educate to those that are now little more than advertising. 3. Markets can also corrupt the motivation for a task. This can be problematic in terms of the sustainability of that task over the long term. - Example: some schools are apparently paying students money when those students get good grades or high test scores. In practice, this has had mixed results in terms of improving educational outcomes. However, the more important issue is that it may corrupt the motivation for getting good grades in the first place. Instead of getting good grades to further your education or get into a good college, you are now doing it solely for money; and if that money disappears, will all your motivation disappear too? - Example: some parents pay their children to write thank you notes or to read books. This again corrupts the motivation for both of these activities. You write or read because of the promise of money, rather than to actually show gratitude, or learn from or enjoy a book, respectively. - Example: some health insurance companies will pay customers for exercising (e.g., joining a gym) or provably taking their prescribed medication. Given how bad people are at employing health habits, this might be a good thing, but it could be self-defeating over the long-term, as it might corrupt the underlying motivation: that is, exercising or taking your meds because you want to get healthy, rather than because someone is paying you. - Example: a market in carbon credits. To overcome climate change, we most likely need to create a culture of shared sacrifice where everyone reduces their carbon footprint, and where polluting is seen as shameful and wrong. Having a market in carbon credits corrupts this approach entirely, as allowing companies to buy, sell, and trade carbon credits sends the message that polluting is fine so long as you pay money for it (i.e., as long as you're rich). 4. One more issue with markets is the assumption that both the seller and buyer are both adults who consent to a deal, presumably because it is beneficial to each of them. However, in practice, one or both of the parties may be coerced, or under duress, or have their judgment impaired, which makes the idea of consent questionable. - Example: there is an organization that is offering to pay drug addicts to sterilize themselves. The goal is ostensibly noble, as babies born to such drug addicts are at huge risk of a variety of diseases, problems, poverty, etc. However, can a drug addict truly give consent? Or do the drugs and their addiction impair their judgement, so we can't really consider them as being in a mental state where they can genuinely consent to this permanent, life-altering decision? - Example: there is a company that, in exchange for being able to put up advertisements all over the outside of your house (often bright, glaring ads), will pay your mortgage. Consider a family where the father lost his job, can't pay the mortgage, and is about to have the house repossessed by the bank, leaving his family homeless. On the one hand, having this deal available to save the house could be considered a miracle... But is the father really consenting to putting up these ads (which could annoy his neighbors, lower property values, make him an outcast in the neighborhood, etc), or with the prospect of your family ending up homeless, are you under duress and incapable of consenting? - Example: a woman offered to permanently tattoo an advertisement on herself in exchange for the company paying for her sick child's medical bills. Again, is this woman really consenting to this, or when your child is sick, and you can't afford the medical bills, are you under too much duress to be able to truly give consent? - Example: there are companies that offer to pay your medical bills in exchange for taking ownership of your life insurance. This is problematic for two reasons. First, if you are extremely sick, at risk of dying, and your family can't afford the medical bills to keep you alive, are you not under the kind of duress that makes it impossible to truly give consent? And second, the company has a perverse incentive for you to die sooner, as they'll spend less on medical bills, and the whole deal will be more profitable. This corrupts the purpose of life insurance and leads down a dark path where business people profit from your earlier death. 5. The typical assumption is that markets are the most efficient way to determine the value of some good. But it turns out that markets not only determine the value of something, but also the ability of someone to pay. - Consider tickets to a sports event, such as a Patriots game. - Many of the best seats go to rich people, not because those rich people value the tickets the most, but because they can afford to pay far more. - The result: the best seats go to rich people who barely pay attention to the game and leave early, rather than to the die-hard fans who would value those seats far more, but simply don't have the money to compete with a rich person. 6. One way to look at this question is to decide whether goods should be given out via a queue (i.e., on an egalitarian, semi-random, first-in, first-out basis) or via a market (i.e., based on who is willing or able to pay the most)? - General rule to follow: the market should be the default choice, as it will typically be more efficient, but if putting the good on the market corrupts or demeans that good, then you are better off with the less efficient queue. - However, in the modern world, we seem to be increasingly replacing queues with markets, with little attention paid to whether that leads to corruption. 7. Monetary incentives crowd out moral incentives. - Example: when blood banks started to offer money in exchange for donations, the rate of donations went down. - Example: when people in a Swiss town were asked if they would be willing to have nuclear waste buried in the town, the rate was lower when the residents were offered money, than when they were asked to do it for free, merely as a civic duty. - Bringing money into the equation pushes out altruism, ethics, and duty. It's likely that altruism and civic duty are like a muscle that atrophies without use, so the more markets push into our lives, the less practice we'll get. 8. Markets transform what they touch. They are not morally neutral. - Example: some people participate in "death pools" where they bet on celebrity deaths (e.g., you win money for guessing exactly when some famous person will die). Allowing this sort of thing creates a society with a dark, unhealthy, twisted attitude towards death. - Example: many sports stadiums have sold their names and even the names of events during the game to advertisers. Calling it the "US Bank Stadium" may not seem like a big deal, but when announcers start saying, "This is a US Bank Pitching Change," or "Doritos 7th inning stretch", or every home run is called "A Home Life Insurance Home Run!", the sport itself is becoming corrupted by markets. - Example: ads are appearing in more and more places and interrupting more and more aspects of life. You'll see an ad while filling up at the gas stations; when taking money out of an ATM; when sitting in a bathroom stall. Some companies are paying for people to put ads on their bodies (e.g., on the forehead), sometimes in the form of permanent tattoos. Movies and even books are starting to fill up with product placement. Perhaps the worst offenders are municipal ad deals, where a city signs a deal with a company. For example, one city made Snapple the sole drink sponsor in all public schools. Another city was considering selling the name of all public transit stations to advertisers; yet another was considering allowing ads in state parks and on beaches; and one city allows police cars to be covered with ads. Are we OK with this sort of corruption throughout society? 9. The key takeaway messages at the end of the book: - Our society is becoming increasingly stratified due to money. The rich can buy sky boxes at stadiums; first class seats on airplanes and trains; to pay others to wait for them in line; and so on. In short, the rich and poor are increasingly living in completely different, separate worlds. This can lead to the breakdown of a democratic society. - We need to recognize this is happening and start having a serious dialog as a society abut whether we are OK with this. If we do nothing, markets will enter every aspect of life, and there's ample evidence to suggest that while this will have some benefits, it may also have some very dark consequences.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ramnath Iyer

    Asking tough questions of us all…. Most of the precious things in life are not measured by money. And most of us would balk at the idea. But in this highly thought-provoking book, Michael Sandel shows how that is exactly what has been happening to a lot of things in civil society, and points out what is wrong with this slow, almost insidious, inexorable phenomenon. Is it moral to pay $150,000 to shoot an endangered species? Or to pay money to a line standing company that will hold your place in Asking tough questions of us all…. Most of the precious things in life are not measured by money. And most of us would balk at the idea. But in this highly thought-provoking book, Michael Sandel shows how that is exactly what has been happening to a lot of things in civil society, and points out what is wrong with this slow, almost insidious, inexorable phenomenon. Is it moral to pay $150,000 to shoot an endangered species? Or to pay money to a line standing company that will hold your place in the queue for a supreme court or Congress hearing? Should wars be fought by private contracted militaries? Should prison cell upgrades be possible on paying $100 a night? Should children be paid to read, or to write thank you notes? Is it moral for doctors to accept retainers that guarantee faster attendance to patients, even if that means that those who don’t pay will have to wait longer than otherwise (since the supply of “available” doctors reduces)? These are not theoretical questions, but questions about current reality. After the fall of the Wall and the triumph of capitalism over communism, market economics has constantly moved into the realm of civil society, such that society has been “marketized”. Economists couch this under the term “maximization of utility”, but this can more crudely, and easily understanbly, be termed the logic of money, or highest bidder wins. But what is wrong with this? Sandel persuasively argues that far from being inert - i.e. they do not affect the goods they exchange as economists conveniently assume - markets often leave their mark, and sometimes, market values crowd out nonmarket norms. The ability to see the political process or judiciary in action is something that’s essential to good society or good democracy, and hence should not be subjugated to money. Likewise, as skyboxes and high-priced enclosures pervade sporting arenas, the mixing of the rich and ordinary folks becomes even rarer. The author acknowledges that people will have different views on the norms governing various aspects of life, but suggests that these need to be debated. Public discourse has been strikingly absent on these subjects, but that lack of discussion has not left the issues undecided. Instead the market has simply started deciding all these issues for us. Sandel states that such phenomena are harmful to society. While democracy doesn’t require perfect equality, it does require places and occasions where men and women can share experiences and bump up against one another. Reducing these make for more stratified societies, which history has shown is never a good thing. As we go from being a market economy to a market society, this is an inevitable outcome. The book implores us to think about the consequences. I agree, its high time we did so.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    2/8/20 —I just reread this and it still is wonderful and topical. It is frequently noted, very positively, in a number of recent books and economics, markets, and current societal crises. The author is a philosopher teaching in Harvard’s law school. Having reread the book, I am now strongly motivated to read the author’s book on Justice. The aggressive focus on examining the moral/ethical dimensions of given issues, as opposed to leaving all up to individuals in the market, unreflectively, is 2/8/20 —I just reread this and it still is wonderful and topical. It is frequently noted, very positively, in a number of recent books and economics, markets, and current societal crises. The author is a philosopher teaching in Harvard’s law school. Having reread the book, I am now strongly motivated to read the author’s book on Justice. The aggressive focus on examining the moral/ethical dimensions of given issues, as opposed to leaving all up to individuals in the market, unreflectively, is the great strength of this book. This is a short book that focuses on a fairly specific development - the movement of market based thinking in the past 30 years into areas in which it had not been present. With such trends leading to an end point where everything is up for sale, the author raises the question of whether that is a good situation and a positive development or not. Without giving too much away, I can say that the author does not view the spread of a commodity logic as an unqualified positive development. The book covers a number of well known areas, such as the sale of public naming rights, advertising in schools, and queues to obtain organ transplants, as well as some lesser known areas, for example the development of markets for the sale of life insurance policies by people other than those directly involved in a life (for example, family members) or the development of firms that hire people to wait in line for others at public events. What is exceptional about the book is the way in which the author goes over the issues involved in each problem area -- what is wrong about this? Why can't this be a matter for individual choice? How to sort out conflicts between individual choice and common good? The book is a call for people to think more often and more effectively about these issues before decisions are made for them by others. Two key points that I took from the book are: 1) that the market may actually change the nature of what is bought and sold and is not necessarily a passive means of exchange; and 2) that the extent to which market logic spreads is associated with a lack of public discussion about the common good and common norms -- and that this is not a healthy development for society. While the author clearly has his preferences, ample room is left for the reader to reach his/her own conclusions.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    My own initial worries were that an Ivy League professor would write an argument that requires some sort of familiarity with the vagaries of economic theory. But Sandel doesn't. He explains both the econ and the moral theory that represent the book’s central conflict/discussion in incredibly accessible terms, a prose style that seems to me entirely suitable for the target audience. There's very little disciplinary name-dropping or theoretical digression, and the presentation calls to mind an My own initial worries were that an Ivy League professor would write an argument that requires some sort of familiarity with the vagaries of economic theory. But Sandel doesn't. He explains both the econ and the moral theory that represent the book’s central conflict/discussion in incredibly accessible terms, a prose style that seems to me entirely suitable for the target audience. There's very little disciplinary name-dropping or theoretical digression, and the presentation calls to mind an intro-text to some common ethical dilemmas (something that the author has, I suspect, already written): it’s case-based, deliberative, and generally unbiased in its discussions of appropriate solutions to the problems of its subject matter. WMCB asks questions that are both academically interesting but also incredibly practical: should people be able to buy their way out of amusement park lines? How about airport security checks? Emergency rooms? Perhaps into a new country as immigrants? I also think that the discussions of stadium-naming rights and corporate intrusions into sports broadcasts may resonate with many young readers, as might the talk of selling class time in elementary and high schools, institutions from which they have quite recently emerged. Beyond the thematic accessibility and topicality, the book’s organization into discrete topics allows or encourages reading in self-contained excerpts, the introduction works well as an argument-in-miniature as opposed to merely a prologue, and the argument is concisely wrapped up in a breezy 203 pages before endnotes.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Katrina Stevenson

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Sandel’s big premise is that there are situations where markets (the buying and selling of that good) may be possible, but should be prevented due to their degradation of an intrinsic or non-market value of that good. While I somewhat agree, I don’t like that he didn’t accurately represent the opposite argument. Paternalistic limitations on human behaviour, like saying we shouldn’t allow people to sell something because we find it morally objectionable, are often done for the underprivileged’s Sandel’s big premise is that there are situations where markets (the buying and selling of that good) may be possible, but should be prevented due to their degradation of an intrinsic or non-market value of that good. While I somewhat agree, I don’t like that he didn’t accurately represent the opposite argument. Paternalistic limitations on human behaviour, like saying we shouldn’t allow people to sell something because we find it morally objectionable, are often done for the underprivileged’s own good, without taking into account that it may be their best option to alleviate hardship in their lives, and limiting their choices only makes their situations worse.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mark Crawford

    Robert Fulford's year-end musing in The National Post, "2012, the year when money somehow became unpopular" contains a predictably jaundiced view of two recent scholarly works about contemporary capitalism, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Harvard Political Theorist Michael J. Sandel, and How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life, by Robert and Edward Skidelsky. (Since I have not read the latter work, I shall not comment upon it.) But I have read Sandel's book and have found Robert Fulford's year-end musing in The National Post, "2012, the year when money somehow became unpopular" contains a predictably jaundiced view of two recent scholarly works about contemporary capitalism, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Harvard Political Theorist Michael J. Sandel, and How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life, by Robert and Edward Skidelsky. (Since I have not read the latter work, I shall not comment upon it.) But I have read Sandel's book and have found it to be eminently readable, illuminating, and persuasive. It has helped me to clarify my views on several subjects. I heartily recommend it to every educated lay person who wonders about the limits of economic imperialism in social science and philosophy and about the limitations of market-based institutions or policies. I shall start with a summary of Sandel's arguments and then briefly address Fulford's objections. Sandel begins with a survey of practices that have become commonly accepted in the era of market triumphalism: "[t]he reach of markets, and market-oriented thinking, into aspects of life traditionally governed by nonmarket norms is one of the most significant developments of our time...the uses of markets to allocate health, education, public safety, national security, criminal justice, environmental protection, recreation, procreation, and other social goods were for the most part unheard of thirty years ago" (p.7-8). Examples abound: prisoners paying for cell upgrades; solo drivers pay to drive in car pool lanes; wealthy foreigners are eligible for green cards; line-standing companies queue on behalf of busy (or wealthy concert-goers); the right to emit carbon can be purchased on the open market; and the burgeoning market in viaticals and corporate-owned life insurance policies. So why should we worry? Sandel adduces two general reasons. The first is inequality. "[A]s money comes to buy more and more --political influence, good medical care, a home in a safe neighbourhood rather than a crime-ridden one, access to elite schools rather than failing ones--the distribution of income and wealth looms larger and larger. Where all good things are bought and sold, having money makes all the difference in the world." This is an important insight: it may not be inequality per se that is harmful, but rather the way in which the commodification of everything makes those inequalities matter more. The second reason is more subtle and insidious: "the morally corrosive tendency of markets"(p.9). Markets don't just allocate goods: they also express and promote certain attitudes towards those goods in ways that change them. And in certain cases, this can largely corrupt the goods in question. This latter point is probably the most important one in the book. For Sandel is not simply reporting his own attitude towards the "cash nexus" (this is what conservatives like Fulford too often assume is going on). Instead, he persuasively argues that it is the goods themselves that are being transformed. And this exposes the Achilles Heel of economic theory whenever it is applied outside the realm of ordinary material goods. For the power and prestige of economic thinking relies to a great degree on the assumption that markets do not affect the goods they exchange. True enough, when the goods are household products, manufactures or widgets; even ordinary commercial services. But other goods--education, health, even access to cultural goods--involve values that can be corrupted or crowded out by market values whenever they are freely bought and sold on the open market. Sandel shows how some of the most influential economists of recent times have overlooked this danger in their zeal to extend the reach and power of economic theory and method. Gary Becker, whose book The Economic Approach to Human Behaviour (1976) was a clarion call to provide all of social science with a "sturdier foundation" focused on income and price effects, blamed all resistance to this notion on either sentimentality (as when he applied economic analysis to marriage and divorce) or ignorance (about the pervasiveness of cost and benefit calculations in every area of activity). No doubt Becker had a point. But so too does Sandel: for rendering the 'implicit' prices associated with sex, marriage, education environmental protection , political participation and human health explicit may not always improve the way we reason about these non-material or quasi-material goods. It may also narrow and degrade these conversations to the point that they are no longer conversations at all. This book persuasively argues that of the two kinds of objections to markets--the fairness objection that market choices reflect inequality, and the corruption objection that points to the degrading effect upon certain moral and civic goods and practices if they are bought and sold--the first objection is widely if not quite sufficiently recognized in policy literature. But the second has been greatly under-appreciated, probably because these objections are assumed be merely grounded in moral preferences. This may not be true: "A growing body of research confirms what common sense suggests: financial incentives and other market mechanisms can backfire by crowding out nonmarket norms. Sometimes, offering payment for certain behaviour gets you less of it, not more" (p.114). Sandel gives three great examples of this phenomenon: the support for nuclear waste sites that went down in Switzerland after communities started being paid for it instead of being called upon to exercise their civic duty; the increase in late day-care pickups in Israel after fines were introduced, because parents reasoned that they were now paying teachings and daycare workers to work late; and the unpaid volunteers who were more successful in fund-raising than those who were paid commission (pp.114-120). Two tenets of market faith need to be re-assessed. The first is that commercializing an activity doesn't change it. This allows for the straightforward application of pareto effciency: if a previously untradable good is made tradable, those who wish to buy and sell to their mutual advantage will do so, while everyone else is made no worse off--as Kenneth Arrow once said, "Why should the creation of a market for blood decrease the altruism embodied in giving blood?" (p.126). Sandel's response: because "commercializing blood changes the meaning of it". In a world where blood is routinely bought and sold , giving blood might even be considered an unfair labour practice, depriving a poor person of a source of income. The second tenet of market faith that is too prominent in economic theory according to Sandel is that ethical behaviour is a commodity that needs to be economized. One example of this reasoning is Arrow's article on blood supply, in which he argues for markets on the grounds that markets spare us from using up society's scarce resources of altruism, generosity, civic virtue, and solidarity. Other examples are Sir Dennis Robertson's address to Columbia's bicentennial in 1954, which defended economics on the ground that the economist can contribute mightily to society by saving it from squandering its scarce supply of virtue and economizing "that scarce resource Love"(128); and Lawrence Summers offer of morning prayer in Harvard's Memorial Church. Summers, a respected economist, offered a standard utilitarian account of the common good and argued, pace Arrow and Robertson, that reckless expenditures of altruism in economic and social life reduce the amount that we have left over for other public purposes, for our families and our friends. Yet Sandel is surely right to argue--pace Aristotle and Rousseau--that, on the contrary,"altruism, generosity, solidarity and civic spirit are not like commodities that are depleted with use. They are more like muscles that develop and grow stronger with exercise. ...To renew our public life we need to exercise them more strenuously"(130). The problem with Fulford's commentary on this book is that it does not fully confront either Sandel's most fundamental arguments or his evidence. Fulford does score a point in noting that Sandel happily serves at Harvard as “Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government,” (Bass being a Fort Worth oil billionaire who has a supersonic corporate jet in development). But Sandel is not arguing that naming rights shouldn't be sold; he is merely drawing attention to how much more frequent it has become in the last three decades and asks whether it has become excessive. Fulford writes: "Sandel believes business has exceeded its “moral limits” but he avoids defining them and instead provides flagrant examples of wretched excess. ...Sandel doesn’t know how to limit capitalist excesses but hopes someone will think of something." I think this is unfair. Sandel has contributed mightily to clarifying arguments against vouchers, for example, since they speak to the inequality argument but not to the corruption argument.. "Both Sandel and the Skidelskys mention that capitalism greatly improves material conditions but they admit it grudgingly, as if under torture. In neither book does trade of any kind appear noble, like university teaching. It is a necessary evil if it is in fact necessary at all." This is not only unfair; insofar as it applies to Sandel, it is absolutely untrue. He understands and appreciates the value of capitalism and of the market economy. Capitalism is virtuous as well as effective within its sphere. That we should strive to have a market economy, without completely marketizing all of society in the process, is what Sandel has clearly demonstrated. And along the way, he has exposed the biggest ideological and intellectual roadblocks to that democratic project.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    Michael Sandel is a storyteller. His stories are amusing ones like those in Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, but Sandel’s stories urge us to look deeper: to look meaning rather than just personal gain. Perhaps not everything should be for sale. Sandel’s stories make us wonder what our responsibilities are in the marketplace economists have made for us. He prods us to ask ourselves if the world we have is the one we want. Judging from the reaction of the Michael Sandel is a storyteller. His stories are amusing ones like those in Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, but Sandel’s stories urge us to look deeper: to look meaning rather than just personal gain. Perhaps not everything should be for sale. Sandel’s stories make us wonder what our responsibilities are in the marketplace economists have made for us. He prods us to ask ourselves if the world we have is the one we want. Judging from the reaction of the populace to the presidential election in 2016, I would guess most of us have are not satisfied with what we have wrought. The good news is that we can make different choices. We just have to think about it. Do we want advertising for McDonald’s on public buildings, schools, or police cars? Do we want someone betting how soon we will die so as to take advantage of our life insurance policies? Do we want a cash payment to store nuclear waste near our homes? Sandel presents these real, documented offerings to us and shows us what the outcomes have been. This is an easy, non-taxing read. There are no references to philosophers and only the barest rudiments of what is called economic theory, and yet the work is permeated with “the stuff” of these two disciplines. It is the raw materials, the everyday dilemmas with which we need to work. I have seen some of Sandel’s examples from newspapers in recent years, but there were still several I never encountered before. Like the one about the school in Israel where the parents kept showing up late to pick up their children. The teachers levied a fine for parents late for pick-up, and transgressions actually increased. The parents began to regard the fine as a fee. When school officials removed the fine a couple of months later, transgressions increased again. It became the norm to disregard the pick-up time, and more parents became aware that others were transgressing. They began to think it was okay to make the teacher work overtime. In this case, I guess I would suggest making the fine really punitive, not merely suggestive, to see if that made a difference, though exceptions for real excuses would have to be considered. Sandel had me laughing and cringing: what about hunting Atlantic walrus in Canada? Atlantic walrus had become so rare in the 20th Century that Inuits were the only ones allowed to hunt them. Inuit leaders asked the Canadian government if they could sell some of their walrus quota to big-game hunters for $6,500. ”[Big game hunters] for not come for the thrill of the chase or the challenge of stalking an elusive prey. Walruses are unthreatening creatures that move slowly and are no match for hunters with guns…C.J. Chivers compared walrus hunting under Inuit supervision to ‘a long boat ride to shoot a very large beanbag chair.’ The guides maneuver the boat to within fifteen yards of the walrus and tell the hunter when to shoot…The appeal of such a hunt is difficult to fathom…[but] markets don’t pass judgement on the desires they satisfy.” Another desire Sandel discusses is prostitution, something that has been in the news just this week when France decided to fine buyers paying for sex. Apparently legalization of prostitution in the Netherlands has led to gang control of the business, and in Germany human trafficking has continued unabated. Sandel asks whether we can really still bare-facedly argue that sex between “consenting” adults when one is paid is without moral ramifications. “Certain moral and civic goods are diminished or corrupted if bought and sold:” prostitution could be regarded as a form of corruption that demeans women and promotes bad attitudes toward sex. This is the argument used in Scandinavian countries, and now France. Towards the end of the book, Sandel quotes two economists who believe that virtue and love are scarce resources. (Among some of us, I am sure that is true.) He points out that some philosophers have taken another view: that civic virtue dies if it is not nourished, practiced, and that it grows, not depletes, with every instance of it. Love similarly. Love is not something we should preserve, but spend at every opportunity, for its return is exponential. Sandel wades into many hot-button issues and calmly explains alternate ways of looking at a problem. He is clear enough for first year college students, even high school students. His moral and ethical ways of thinking allow us to challenge current thinking about issues facing us today. I preferred Sandel’s book on Justice: What's The Right Thing To Do? but hope he will keep writing. One day, perhaps, the thinkers among us will conclude “free-market” economists really have no clothes and that money is not our only currency.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Money itself is an allusion. And this book pokes at the growing assumption that everything these days has a price. Sandel argues effectively the futility of assigning a value to tricky moral issues and the corrupting nature of money on the things a value has been slapped on. Here's the deal. The market mindset shouldn't be applied to all things in our life. Why do we like putting a value on things? Well, it's neat and tidy. It absolves people of true responsibility for their actions. The downside Money itself is an allusion. And this book pokes at the growing assumption that everything these days has a price. Sandel argues effectively the futility of assigning a value to tricky moral issues and the corrupting nature of money on the things a value has been slapped on. Here's the deal. The market mindset shouldn't be applied to all things in our life. Why do we like putting a value on things? Well, it's neat and tidy. It absolves people of true responsibility for their actions. The downside is that as much as we want to call ourselves a democracy, if everything has a value attached to it, people with more money have more access to... everything. And, it cleaves our society into those with money and those without. As these groups come in contact less and less, sympathy withers and we're in a vicious cycle with more and more indifference, apathy, and selfishness. It also encourages the short term view over the long term which will come back to bite us all. They call economics the dismal science. It certainly earns its dismal points, but I'm not so sure about the science part. It's depressing the mindset some economists have and how much it denies their own humanity. In their mind, the perfect world is one where the only gifts given are straight cash because only a person truly knows what he or she wants and this way there is no wasteful spending in the wrong direction and no ugly sweater returns after the Holidays. Now, don't get me wrong, cash can be a wonderful gift. But, to think that each of us at all times especially during our childhood into our young adulthood knows what's best for us is insane. What about the beauty of someone seeing something in you that you didn't. My dad gave me his first camera when I was in college. I am now a professional photographer. I had no interest in photography before that GIFT. This market mindset not only has no respect for what a gift is and could be, but practically sneers at it. Then, there's good old Larry Summers. I do love seeing one Harvard man call out another. Sandel talks about how Larry bragged during a speech at Harvard about how much utility (or whatever neutered word he used) economists add to society. Larry pointed out a case where economists put a value on blood donating and now that some people were paid for their blood, well they're free to use their charity and generosity elsewhere in the places it really counts like their family. The supposition these stunted peons make is that charity, good will, and even love are commodities in short supply. Best use them only where they're absolutely necessary. Sandel points out that these beautiful human capacities are not commodities. In fact they're more like muscles and the more we exercise them the better we get at doing more charity and loving more. Jeff Tweedy, the singer for Wilco, said when he was younger, he was worried about having enough love to go around for the people in his life. But, as he became a father and gained experience and wisdom in life, he learned that his love expanded exponentially with the chances to share it. I wish I could say Larry Summers basic lack of a grasp of what it is to be human was more funny than it was seriously disturbing. And yet, in their economic forecasts and cost estimates, economists are more than happy to treat truly limited resources like clean water as unlimited. It's mind bending how butt ass backwards they have it. Maybe artists should run the world. Sure, nothing would run on time and khakis would disappear, but at least a basic understanding of the intangibles in life and how no value can be assigned to them would exist. Anyway, the book is wonderful and it makes you think and it maybe a bit mad as I look over my review.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Carla

    I haven't yet read Justice, but after reading this I certainly will. This book helped me spotlight an uncomfortable internal tug-of-war that's been going on inside my head for most of my career -where is the line? As a marketer for most of my career, I have aggressively pursued every possible angle to get closer and closer to my target audience and push them to a desired action. As a startup manager in the day, nothing was beyond redesign and everything had a business model. But there was a I haven't yet read Justice, but after reading this I certainly will. This book helped me spotlight an uncomfortable internal tug-of-war that's been going on inside my head for most of my career -where is the line? As a marketer for most of my career, I have aggressively pursued every possible angle to get closer and closer to my target audience and push them to a desired action. As a startup manager in the day, nothing was beyond redesign and everything had a business model. But there was a nagging voice and Sandel gave that voice structure and a legit argument. Through perhaps too many examples and sometimes circular arguments, he helped me find and define my line, which is anything but straight. My line said, 'it's okay to sell the naming rights to a ballpark, and maybe stamp a logo on the sand a million times at the beach where I grew up, but it's not okay to put Mountain Dew decals on the floors of our high schools and national landmarks because that erodes our perception, and overtime our shared responsibility, to maintain those assets. If it can be bought, then it's "their" problem. It isn't until the end of the book (literally the last two pages), that he makes the most direct and poignant arguments. The one that hit home was "As naming rights and municipal marketing appropriate the common world, they diminish it's public character. Beyond the damage it does to particular goods, commercialism erodes commonality." He calls this "skyboxification", which I love. I went back and adjusted my "line" to include those ballparks and beaches after this follow-on paragraph: "Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share a common life. What matters is that people of different background and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of everyday life. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good." I would also add, that this is how we come to understand context, opportunity and risk. It's through our shared experiences that we see new possibilities for ourselves, realize our true position on this earth, and find our compassion for those who are easily lost in the background. I can't help but point to our online lives. We've found commonality online right? No. The ubiquitous predictive analytics, "friends only" gatekeeping and ever refined topic categories and forums are furthering our unconscious cocooning. Going forward, I will be even more deliberate in my attempts to subject my children to as many human experiences across as many chasms as I can without having a heart attack :) P.S. Those final two pages of the book were big. I didn't want put it down right away, so I scanned the Notes, Acknowledgements and finally, About the Author and I stopped cold. "Michael J. Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University. Was he in fact a victim of commercialism via well-meaning philanthropy instead of greedy corporate, but with the same end result?

  25. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    What Money Can't Buy is a great book on a rather unpopular topic. Where it seems like most people are content to simply put their faith in the movements of markets that they don't understand, Sandel is willing and able to point out the inherent limitations of markets in determining how we value what is for sale. Armed with a great number of examples from a variety of financial/economic areas, the author dissects all of them based on two primary objections to putting anything up for sale and What Money Can't Buy is a great book on a rather unpopular topic. Where it seems like most people are content to simply put their faith in the movements of markets that they don't understand, Sandel is willing and able to point out the inherent limitations of markets in determining how we value what is for sale. Armed with a great number of examples from a variety of financial/economic areas, the author dissects all of them based on two primary objections to putting anything up for sale and letting the market determine the 'value.' The first of these objections is fairness (how free are 'free choices'; what about services that everyone needs, like healthcare; what about areas put aside for common enjoyment, like national parks) and the second is about corruption (does it demean people to plaster them with advertising; do we value lives wrongly when we permit betting on the deaths of strangers; do we undermine the meaning of education when we tacitly teach kids to accept the pronouncements of authorities). I think Sandel did an excellent job articulating the fairness objection, especially in light in rising economic inequality in America and throughout the world. I think he did an acceptable job articulating the corruption objection, though my issue is more with timelines drawn and specific points of comparison in the final chapter than anything else. On a whole, The Moral Limits of Markets is well-researched, well-written, and very educational.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Altonmann

    This book is a mere catalog of commercialism in our society. Since our society and culture in the United States is commercialism, the book is merely additional noise. Merely a pile of undigested research by an academic. If academia requires publish or perish, this belongs in the perish category. The blurb by George Will (the cipher with a bow tie) should have warned me off. There is no point of view expressed here. The author's quiet even handed calm approach is perhaps intended as "objectivity". This book is a mere catalog of commercialism in our society. Since our society and culture in the United States is commercialism, the book is merely additional noise. Merely a pile of undigested research by an academic. If academia requires publish or perish, this belongs in the perish category. The blurb by George Will (the cipher with a bow tie) should have warned me off. There is no point of view expressed here. The author's quiet even handed calm approach is perhaps intended as "objectivity". Actually it's either gutless or mindless neutrality. Utterly tepid response to the reductionist, toxic line of thought propogated by the Chicago school free market religion. Yes. it's religion NOT science. Life is not reducible to a mere set of economic formulas. Commerciality is a sewer. Apparently, this guy thinks there might be something wrong with this fact, but he doesn't dare rush to judgement. Don't waste your time with this mild mannered pablum. There are far more worthy books deserving of your attention. The book to read on this topic is No Logo written by Naomi Klein, who is not an academic, does reporting not mere academic research and is a Canadian who sees through the sham and toxity of contemporary life in the free market world clearly. As for the disastrous consequences of the fundamentalist "free market" creed, read Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine - it's an eye opener.

  27. 4 out of 5

    John Campbell

    Sandel has a gift for detecting the moral components of our daily lives, and communicating them accessibly. In this book, he shows with clarity that market thinking has the effect of crowding out moral considerations, and that we as a society need to think carefully about when and where markets are appropriate. In doing so he attacks a central tenet of modern economics, the idea that markets do not change goods, but I think he do so convincingly. The examples he pulls from real life to Sandel has a gift for detecting the moral components of our daily lives, and communicating them accessibly. In this book, he shows with clarity that market thinking has the effect of crowding out moral considerations, and that we as a society need to think carefully about when and where markets are appropriate. In doing so he attacks a central tenet of modern economics, the idea that markets do not change goods, but I think he do so convincingly. The examples he pulls from real life to illustrate markets that go against common moral intuitions are captivating, and some of the quotes pulled from members of those markets are stunning. I highly recommend this book. Were it not for my body's stubborn insistence on sleep, I would have read it in a single sitting.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mark Jr.

    I find it incredibly refreshing to find any writer who sees through the tempting veneer secularism has laid not just on our politics but on our lives. It's a tempting veneer, because it is very hard—impossible, intractable—to find agreement with those whose "vision of the good life," whose ways of valuing things, are different from one's own. But those differences must be solved: either we're going to allow surrogate parenting or we're not, either we're going to sanction kidney sales or we're I find it incredibly refreshing to find any writer who sees through the tempting veneer secularism has laid not just on our politics but on our lives. It's a tempting veneer, because it is very hard—impossible, intractable—to find agreement with those whose "vision of the good life," whose ways of valuing things, are different from one's own. But those differences must be solved: either we're going to allow surrogate parenting or we're not, either we're going to sanction kidney sales or we're not, either we're going to see problems with advertisements on report cards/police cars/foreheads or we're not. So we outsource our moral disagreements to supposedly neutral concepts such as "equality" or "fairness" or (negatively speaking) "harm"—or, increasingly, we simply outsource them to the market. Sandel's book, following his similar but more wide-ranging book *Justice*, is undeniably brilliant. Sandel, a legendary Harvard professor, points out countless ways in which letting market norms into our lives has pushed out other norms, better ways of valuing things. Sandel makes the point (as he did in *Justice*) that it is impoverishing to our discourse to push metaphysical, yea, religious claims to the margins or further. Without exactly laying out his own vision of a good life, he insists that one's vision "will out." And an attentive reader can build up some understanding of Sandel's vision by noticing what bothers him. He finds it demeaning to have an advertisement tattooed on one's forehead, destructive of the goods that baseball was designed to foster when market reasoning is applied to the sport (see *Moneyball*), degrading of education when ads cover lockers in public schools. I could possibly have wished for Sandel to have said more about his own vision of the good. I was surprised that almost the entire book was filled with analysis rather than evaluation (though the latter was often strongly implied, and sometimes briefly stated). I hoped for a final chapter in which he gave a constructive vision of that good life. But the meta-point of the book is excessively valuable: we will have a vision of the good shaped (I would specify) by our values, and letting the market decide questions of value is a self-harming cheat. I see in Sandel (and in Stanley Fish and in Steven D. Smith) something of a prophet pointing to massive cracks in our society's foundation.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Soon Kim

    Second book by this prof and it was also great as his first book I read Justice. One thing I want more is theoretical grounds and explanations on economists or so that I could expand the list of tbr books. However, as always, he is eloquent and exactly knows what he wants to convey on the phenomenon of consumerism and market-driven society which is to be said prevalent and seems like uncontrollable. Interesting enough to read various examples of conflicts on how much we can trade our time and Second book by this prof and it was also great as his first book I read Justice. One thing I want more is theoretical grounds and explanations on economists or so that I could expand the list of tbr books. However, as always, he is eloquent and exactly knows what he wants to convey on the phenomenon of consumerism and market-driven society which is to be said prevalent and seems like uncontrollable. Interesting enough to read various examples of conflicts on how much we can trade our time and money with products or services or where should be the boundary of private companies in communal places.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Savyasachee

    I like this book. Michael Sandel talks about the moral limits of markets in this one, delving into the parts of economics most mainstream economists have traditionally been uncomfortable with. The normative half of economics hasn't really been an easy subject to delve into: there's enough opinion and hemming and hawing that people ought to be quite wary of someone who tells them about the way something ought to be. Which is what Sandel ends up not doing. He's very clear he's presenting both I like this book. Michael Sandel talks about the moral limits of markets in this one, delving into the parts of economics most mainstream economists have traditionally been uncomfortable with. The normative half of economics hasn't really been an easy subject to delve into: there's enough opinion and hemming and hawing that people ought to be quite wary of someone who tells them about the way something ought to be. Which is what Sandel ends up not doing. He's very clear he's presenting both halves of a discussion. His own biases seep through, for what it's worth, but there's nothing wrong with that. Whether it's advertising in detention centres or schools, or naming someone Walmart Williamson, the intrusion of money into society does have an impact. To deny that is to deny reality, something academic economists seem quite fine with. Sandel lays out the narrative of the changes in society caused by markets quite artfully, allowing me to rate this book 4/5. I don't think it's 5/5 material despite the rigor, but it's definitely a good recommendation for everyone.

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