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

Michael Sandel

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

Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars, outsourcing inmates to for-profit prisons, auctioning admission to elite universities, or selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay? Isn't there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? 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. In What Money Can't Buy, Sandel examines one of the biggest ethical questions of our time and provokes a debate that's been missing in our market-driven age: What is the proper role of markets in a democratic society, and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy? 4.1 out of 5 based on 7 reviews
What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Business, Finance & Law, Society, Politics & Philosophy
Format Hardback
Pages 256
RRP £20.00
Date of Publication April 2012
ISBN 978-1846144714
Publisher Allen Lane
 

Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars, outsourcing inmates to for-profit prisons, auctioning admission to elite universities, or selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay? Isn't there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? 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. In What Money Can't Buy, Sandel examines one of the biggest ethical questions of our time and provokes a debate that's been missing in our market-driven age: What is the proper role of markets in a democratic society, and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy?

Reviews

The Guardian

John Lanchester

I had moments when I wanted What Money Can't Buy to be more charged, to use more of the language of right and wrong and less of the bloodless vocabulary of "norms". But Sandel, I came to realise, is doing something very specific in this book. It's a work of political philosophy more than it is a polemic: he wants to make it unambiguously clear that markets have a moral impact on the goods that are traded in them. To understand the importance of his purpose, you first have to grasp the full extent of the triumph achieved by market thinking in economics, and the extent to which that thinking has spread to other domains ... Sandel's book is, in its calm way, an all-out assault on that idea, and on the influential doctrine that the economic approach to "utility maximisation" explains all human behaviour.

19/05/2012

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The New Statesman

John Gray

What Money Can't Buy … must surely be one of the most important exercises in public philosophy in many years … A practitioner of deliberative democracy in his lecturing and teaching, he seems confident that these differences [of opinion on the moral limits of markets] can be resolved in public debate. I’m not so sure ... But if we do bring basic values into political life in the way that Sandel suggests, at least we won’t be stuck with the dreary market orthodoxies that he has so elegantly demolished.

09/05/2012

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The Times

David Aaronovitch

What Money Can’t Buy is a brilliant, easily readable, beautifully delivered and often funny, extended essay on the question of what, in a good society, should not be for sale. It is an indispensable book on the relationship between morality and economics even if, as you will see, I wonder about parts of his thesis ... [Sandel argues] that “today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone, but increasingly governs the whole of life”, and that this is BAD. The key difficulty with this approach is its ahistoricity ... The truth is not that we are necessarily more commercial (and so more fallen), but that morality constantly changes.

05/05/2012

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The Financial Times

Martin Sandbu

Coming from a lesser thinker or weaker writer, this would sound like an old man’s complaints that things are not the way they used to be. But Sandel has a genius for showing why such changes are deeply important — and why economists are wrong to be irritated by what they see as irrational opposition to market solutions.

19/05/2012

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The Independent

Diane Coyle

Entertaining and provocative … What Money Can't Buy will tap into a widespread unease about having to limit government and accept a larger private domain in this age of austerity; and about crass commercialisation when unemployment and inequality are too high. But it does not offer a clear guide to which markets are repugnant, and why. We might agree that the new markets in financial indices of agricultural commodity prices, created by Goldman Sachs and others, are intolerable ... But is it really morally repugnant for educational buildings to be named after rich donors?

05/05/2012

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The Daily Telegraph

Alasdair Palmer

The problem is that he offers only half of the argument needed to sustain his case. He doesn’t explain the basis of the values he wants us to defend. He uses words such as “distasteful” to attack trades in the things he thinks should not be for sale — but those reactions are not, on their own, a reliable guide to morality.

08/05/2012

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The Sunday Times

Jenni Russell

Where this book is desperately unsatisfactory is in its failure to come up with much of an answer to its central thesis. The moral concerns Sandel raises are fascinatingly different, and yet he doesn’t go far beneath the surface to explore the varied reasons why we might recoil from what’s for sale. Whether he is discussing the rental of cleaner, quieter jail cells to some Californian prisoners, the erection of ad sites along state-owned nature trails, or the purchase of pre-written best-man’s speeches, his fundamental objection always comes down to the same point: that some moral and civic goods are corrupted and degraded by being sold. Well, yes, but why? ... Sandel’s discussion of these issues remains frustratingly superficial.

13/05/2012

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