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Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets 1st Edition

4 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0394583921
ISBN-10: 0394583922
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Everything For Sale is an erudite reprieve from the deluge of books written in praise of free markets. Robert Kuttner fires back with a book that documents relevant, real-world examples of market failure and makes the case for intelligent intervention to attain more desirable outcomes. His exhaustive litany of successful (some, even cherished) government interventions in the market--from National Public Radio to the Internet--creates a persuasive case for a mixed program of political and market-based approaches in the shaping of public policy. When Kuttner pushes his argument for a culture with less commercial emphasis, his preferences exhibit an anti-market bias. But overall, his argument is clear and compelling, exposing blind adherence to market outcomes as largely arbitrary, ideological, and often, an affront to democracy. Academic economists who ignore the political desires of the people in order to protect the purity of their mathematical models draw Kuttner's fire in particular. He writes about ideas and economic details with great verve and ability. Kuttner's book is certain to be a touchstone of debate, if not reform, among public policy makers.

From Publishers Weekly

Challenging the prevailing conservative doctrine that an unregulated, self-correcting, free-market economy is the ideal, Kuttner (The End of Laissez-Faire) argues that in a humane society, whole realms of activity necessarily depart from pure market principles because market norms drive out nonmarket norms?civility, commitment to the public good, personal economic security and liberty. In the workplace, a growing tendency to treat human labor purely as a commodity has led to an increasing polarization of wages, erosion of standards of fairness and greater worker insecurity, he maintains. Overreliance on market mechanisms is ruining the health care system, contends Kuttner, a contributing columnist to Business Week, because of enormous hidden costs engendered by opportunism, fragmentation, underinvestment in public health and prevention, and inefficient use of home care and nursing care. Arguing that deregulation of financial markets leads to offsetting inefficiencies, he casts a skeptical eye on hostile takeovers, junk bonds and derivatives and advocates "stakeholder capitalism" to make shareholders more accountable to employees. In a benchmark for future debate, Kuttner brings, clear, pragmatic thinking to complex, thorny issues, reclaiming a middle ground between champions of laissez-faire capitalism and statism.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 410 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (January 14, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394583922
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394583921
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 7.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,979,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Malvin VINE VOICE on July 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
Robert Kuttner's "Everything for Sale" does a fine job of criticizing unregulated markets. The author takes a look at how markets price themselves in various industries and discusses the relative strengths and weaknesses of the pricing model. Kuttner reveals that in most markets, the public good can be best served by both allowing the "virtues" of the market to work freely and by implementing regulations that correct whatever "limits" may be found in any particular market.

Kuttner also includes a moral dimension to his discussion, where appropriate. As we all know, markets respond only to money. But as a society, we have decided that it would be immoral, for example, to deny health care to seniors who can't afford to pay; consequently we have Medicare and Medicaid to fix this fundamental market flaw. Similarly, Kuttner shows us where pricing models in certain industries fail to take proper account of environmental, labor and social costs and suggests common-sense ways to correct them.

Opinions about the value of Kuttner's work vary widely. Laissez-faire idealogues have charged that the work amounts to "socialism" (see one of the reviews below). To judge for yourself, take a quick look at just one of the industries that Kuttner critiques in the book: airlines.

Kuttner calls the deregulation of the airline industry a "failed experiment". He points out the many problems that have occured since deregulation, including: declining levels of passenger service, airline consolidation and monopolistic pricing, loss of service to small cities, circuitous routing of flights, declining safety levels, etc. I think most people would agree with the accuracy of Kuttner's assessment and that indeed, air travel has become much less appealing today.
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Recently, the theologian Harvey Cox published a tongue in cheek article in the Atlantic Monthly comparing free market economics to a religious sect. Judging from the reaction to Kuttner's book, Cox's article was right on the money. The book's detractors make dismissive ad-hominem attacks on Kuttner's credentials, inaccurately portray the thrust and substance of his arguments to make them appear ludicrous, or simply assert that any one who is against pure free market ideology is no more than a heretical imbecile. One user's review here - the one that accuses Kuttner of "bloviating" - was lifted verbatim and without citation from the Reason magazine review of the book, hardly a non-biased source of information. It is a prime example of this form of criticism. Clearly its author and I did not read the same book.
I found Kuttner's book to be a reasoned argument against pure laissez faire. Kuttner intentionally aimed the book at the educated general reader and has hit that mark well. His intention was to present empirical examples of non-market interventions that produced better outcomes than market alternatives and he has done that. I challenge the free market critics of the book to address these examples, the book's substance, rather than its theology.
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Robert Kuttner takes on free trader's myth, which perpetuates the need for pure markets and limited government. He points out how this ideology, which has brought about the deregulation of many industries and continually pressures for reduced government spending -- on infrastructure, research and development -- has seriously retarded wide economic growth. The result of the U.S. economic policy over the last thirty years has created widening income inequality, limited access to universalities such as health care and basic economic security, and a breakdown of democracy that was established to protect American citizens from private tyranny. He challenges the free-market ideologues that continually influence politics and law by preaching the rhetoric of whatever the outcome of the market must be optimal if it is the result of the operation of the market. Kuttner explains that the myth is allowed to perpetuate not do to economic problems, but because of a lack of political power on the part of most Americans.
Kuttner makes a fine argument through his comprehensive survey of most sectors of the American economy and the social effects of unregulated capital. Moreover, he points out that pure market efficiency is only possible in spot markets, and rarely occurs in reality. He further faults the free market ideologues on their notion that everything can be reduced to markets, citing that markets in certain items are contrary to public policy or unlikely to be produced due to the theory of free-riders, such as with public infrastructure. Kuttner explains that the corporate call for "pure markets," freed from regulatory constraints, is really a corporate call for liberation from its extra-market commitments to community and charity.
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If you really want to understand how the economy works to create winners and losers, this book is the place to start. It is a dangerous book. Four hundred pages overflowing with historic detail. No simplistic models or mathematical equations. No easy answers. Savy analyses of real industries that will be helpful to any stock market operator. The book will be attacked by ideologues and some of its proscriptions are debatable. But no intelligent person can come away from it without a clearer understanding of our business system and the compelling need for mature political solutions to contemporary economic problems.
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