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What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
Audiobook7 hours

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

Published by Macmillan Audio

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars



About this audiobook

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?
Release dateApr 24, 2012
What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

Reviews for What Money Can't Buy

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  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    From my review for Cannonball Read 5 ...

    Alright, back to the non-fiction books I love. Michael Sandel is a modern philosopher who is interested in issues of justice. In fact, his book “Justice” is a fantastic read for people who are interested in philosophy but cringe at the idea of popping open Hume or Kant on a cold winter’s day.

    This book looks at whether there are any moral reasons to not allow the market to ‘take care of things.’ Some of his areas of focus are likely ones that you have considered previously (possibly over a beer with friends). Should people be able to sell their kidneys? Did that student really get into Harvard because of his talent, or because his mom could buy the entire campus twice over? Is that fair? Does it matter if it is or isn’t?

    Sandel argues from a premise that some might not accept: that “making markets more efficient is no virtue in itself.” Instead, he’s interested in why people might cringe at the commodification of certain components of our lives. Why, if markets are so great and supposedly will sort out the distribution of goods and services in the most efficient way possible, do some markets make us so uncomfortable?

    Each example in the book addresses one of two arguments – the argument from fairness and the argument from corruption. In the first case, we might consider where a certain market is fair if the person participating may not REALLY have much of a choice. Again, think about the kidney example. Sure we all own our bodies, but the concern with allowing a market in kidneys is that only the poor would end up selling them, essentially turning them into spare parts for wealthy people, and leaving people who cannot afford kidneys at the whim of donors. The second argument looks at whether the nature of certain things might be corrupted simply by market involvement. Advertising in schools is a prime example of that.

    The book is broken down into five parts – an introduction to the issues he plans to address (and a background on markets and examples of market transactions that might raise an eyebrow), a section on incentives (and how they don’t always work the way you’d think), markets replacing moral discussion, the insurance market (which features my favorite portion of the book, where he examines third-party life insurance purchasing), and the right to name different public and private spaces (think Citibank Field in NYC). The concepts are not difficult to grasp and are well-written and interesting.

    While I do have a philosophy background, I want to emphasize that one is not necessary AT ALL to enjoy this book. If you’re interested in markets and a discussion about why they might not always be the best way to distribute goods, this is a really great read for you. In fact, I suggest getting your favorite discussion partner (perhaps someone who doesn’t always agree with you) to read the book at the same time so you can have a lively chat about it all.
  • Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
    I have the same issue with this book that many other reviewers had: it presents many examples of how money and commercialization can impact things from sports to education, yet is painfully slim on what we're actually supposed to do about it. This book is good for sparking thought and discussion but doesn't do much more than that.
  • Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    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.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    A great book with good arguments that prices shouldn't be put on everything. He lists a number of interesting domains where buying and selling seems to be a dubious way of transaction. Though many readers may find that Sandel shouldn't have included some items, and other readers may find that he left out some important items, it is extremely worthwhile to think about all of his examples.
    The only thing I found a bit unbalanced was the wholesale critique of economists as apologists of radical laissez-faire capitalism. I am myself an economist, and I can say that the (extreme) views of Gary Becker and colleagues, though influential, are not the only ideology in town, but unfortunately their protagonists are very vocal in the public discourse. Many economists work in the fields of social choice and welfare economics will nod their heads while reading Sandel's arguments, so it would be wrong to damn all economists for promoting commercialism and corporatocracy. But I agree that two things are too rarely articulated: that economics is never purely descriptive because it is largely based on (implicit) utilitarian assumptions; and that market allocations are the result of both willingness to pay AND ability to pay. I think economics can only benefit, also in terms of public image, from highlighting these points more.
    The end of the book was a little anticlimactic. It is a pity that Sandel does not dig deeper: till the last few pages, all he does is present a long list of intrusions of commerce in our private lives. But often, these are attempts to solve a deeper problem. If ticket scalpers invade the allocation system for doctor appointments, then there is a shortage of health services. If schools sell out their educational material to corporate advertising, then there is a shortage of education funding. Sandel is right that everybody should have a right to live a decent life, which includes basic health and education. But then, solutions must be found that there is inclusive access to these social goods. Sandel is also right that letting profiteers in the ways he describes in his book is not conducive to the provision of these goods, but he does not mention any solution. There are multiple possibilities to prevent the complete sellout of society while at the same time providing people with a basic right of decency, but Sandel leaves the reader somewhat depressed as he fails to touch on them.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    This is one of those important books which makes you think really hard about the way our world is heading. I think the most horrifying image in it was the one where eggs were being used to advertise forthcoming TV shows. Not on the egg carton, but on the eggs themselves. Well, that and the horrible segregation and commercialisation of sporting events which seem to have removed any vestige of the true meaning of the word 'sport' from that world.

    It's great to see someone try to re-introduce a bit of morality into the hard-nosed world of economics.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    A lucid dissection of much that is wrong with today's market triumphalism.