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

by Michael J. Sandel
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (154 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 24, 2012 9780374203030 978-0374203030 1
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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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

Sandel's world seems to be firmly divided between God and Mammom; in return for evicting the marketeers from the areas he holds sacred, he is prepared to grant them ruling powers over all the others. — Andrew Ross

Review

Praise for Michael Sandel and What Money Can't Buy: 

“Michael Sandel's What Money Can’t Buy is a great book and I recommend every economist to read it, even though we are not really his target audience. The book is pitched at a much wider audience of concerned citizens. But it taps into a rich seam of discontent about the discipline of economics.... The book is brimming with interesting examples which make you think.... I read this book cover-to-cover in less than 48 hours. And I have written more marginal notes than for any book I have read in a long time.”—Timothy Besley, Journal of Economic Literature

“Provocative. . . What Money Can’t Buy [is] an engaging, compelling read, consistently unsettling and occasionally unnerving. . . [It] deserves a wide readership.”—David M. Kennedy, Democracy

“Brilliant, easily readable, beautifully delivered and often funny. . . an indispensable book on the relationship between morality and economics.”—David Aaronovitch, The Times (London)

“Sandel is probably the world’s most relevant living philosopher.”—Michael Fitzgerald, Newsweek

“In a culture mesmerized by the market, Sandel's is the indispensable voice of reason…. What Money Can’t Buy. . . must surely be one of the most important exercises in public philosophy in many years.”—John Gray, New Statesman

“[An] important book. . . Michael Sandel is just the right person to get to the bottom of the tangle of moral damage that is being done by markets to our values.”—Jeremy Waldron, The New York Review of Books

“The most famous teacher of philosophy in the world, [has] shown that it is possible to take philosophy into the public square without insulting the public’s intelligence. . .[He] is trying to force open a space for a discourse on civic virtue that he believes has been abandoned by both left and right.”—Michael Ignatieff, The New Republic

“[Sandel]is such a gentle critic that he merely asks us to open our eyes. . . Yet What Money Can’t Buy makes it clear that market morality is an exceptionally thin wedge. . . Sandel is pointing out. . . [a] quite profound change in society.”—Jonathan V. Last, The Wall Street Journal

What Money Can’t Buy is the work of a truly public philosopher. . . [It] recalls John Kenneth Galbraith’s influential 1958 book, The Affluent Society. . .Galbraith lamented the impoverishment of the public square. Sandel worries about its abandonment—or, more precisely, its desertion by the more fortunate and capable among us. . .[A]n engaging, compelling read, consistently unsettling. . . it reminds us how easy it is to slip into a purely material calculus about the meaning of life and the means we adopt in pursuit of happiness.”—David M. Kennedy, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

“[Sandel] is currently the most effective communicator of ideas in English.”—The Guardian

“Michael Sandel is probably the most popular political philosopher of his generation. . .The attention Sandel enjoys is more akin to a stadium-filling self-help guru than a philosopher. But rather than instructing his audiences to maximize earning power or balance their chakras, he challenges them to address fundamental questions about how society is organized. . . His new book [What Money Can’t Buy] offers an eloquent argument for morality in public life.”—Andrew Anthony, The Observer (London)

What Money Can’t Buy is replete with examples of what money can, in fact, buy. . . Sandel has a genius for showing why such changes are deeply important.”—Martin Sandbu, Financial Times

“One of the leading political thinkers of our time…. Sandel’s new book is What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, and I recommend it highly.  It’s a powerful indictment of the market society we have become, where virtually everything has a price.”—Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast

“To understand the importance of [Sandel’s] 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. This school sees economics as a discipline that has nothing to do with morality, and is instead the study of incentives, considered in an ethical vacuum. Sandel's book is, in its calm way, an all-out assault on that idea…. Let's hope that What Money Can't Buy, by being so patient and so accumulative in its argument and its examples, marks a permanent shift in these debates.”—John Lancaster, The Guardian

“Sandel is among the leading public intellectuals of the age. He writes clearly and concisely in prose that neither oversimplifies nor obfuscates…. Sandel asks the crucial question of our time: ‘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?’”—Douglas Bell, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“Deeply provocative and intellectually suggestive…. What Sandel does…is to prod us into asking whether we have any reason for drawing a line between what is and what isn’t exchangeable, what can’t be reduced to commodity terms…. [A] wake-up call to recognize our desperate need to rediscover some intelligible way of talking about humanity.”—Rowan Williams, Prospect

“There is no more fundamental question we face than how to best preserve the common good and build strong communities that benefit everyone. Sandel's book is an excellent starting place for that dialogue.”—Kevin J. Hamilton, The Seattle Times

“Poring through Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel's new book. . . I found myself over and over again turning pages and saying, 'I had no idea.' I had no idea that in the year 2000, 'a Russian rocket emblazoned with a giant Pizza Hut logo carried advertising into outer space.’. . . I knew that stadiums are now named for corporations, but had no idea that now 'even sliding into home is a corporate-sponsored event.'. . . I had no idea that in 2001 an elementary school in New Jersey became America's first public school 'to sell naming rights to a corporate sponsor.'  Why worry about this trend?  Because, Sandel argues, market values are crowding out civic practices.”—Thomas Friedman, New York Times

“An exquisitely reasoned, skillfully written treatise on big issues of everyday life.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In his new book, Michael Sandel —the closest the world of political philosophy comes to a celebrity — argues that we now live in a society where ‘almost everything can be bought and sold.’ As markets have infiltrated more parts of life, Sandel believes we have shifted from a market economy to ‘a market society,’ turning the world — and most of us in it — into commodities. And when Sandel proselytizes, the world listens…. Sandel’s ideas could hardly be more timely.”—Rosamund Urwin, Evening Standard (London)


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780374203030
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374203030
  • ASIN: 0374203032
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (154 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at the University of Harvard. Sandel's legendary 'Justice' course is one of the most popular and influential at Harvard. In 2007, Harvard made Sandel's course available to alumni around the world through webstreaming and podcasting. Over 5,000 participants signed up, and Harvard Clubs from Mexico to Australia organized local discussion groups in connection with the course. In May 2007, Sandel delivered a series of lectures at major universities in China and he has been a visiting professor at the Sorbonne, Paris. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Council on Foreign Relations. Sandel is the author of many books and has previously written for the Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic and the New York Times. He was the 2009 BBC Reith Lecturer.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
64 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking Fun April 26, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel

" What Money Can't Buy" is the thought-provoking book that asks the ethical question, "Are there some things that money can buy but shouldn't?" With a plethora of fascinating examples, best-selling author and famed Harvard professor Michael J. Sandel once again dazzles the mind with philosophical mind teasers. In this enlightening edition, Sandel challenges the reader with economic ethics, are economic markets replacing our moral judgments? Sandel insists that these are questions that society needs to answer and decide what values should govern our social and civic life. What sets Sandel apart is precisely his ability to ask thought-provoking questions and provide lucid perspectives. This 245-page book is composed of the following five chapters: 1. Jumping the Queue, 2. Incentives, 3. How Markets Crowd Out Morals, 4. Markets in Life and Death, and 5. Naming Rights.

Positives:
1. Elegant, conversational tone that makes this book a treat to read.
2. As thought-provoking a book as you will find.
3. So many fascinating economic topics covered in a brief book.
4. Philosophy made fun. Sandel writes with panache.
5. So easy to understand yet so profound.
6. Very even-handed approach. Does a great job of addressing issues from different perspectives.
7. Sandel challenges you to think. His trademark engaging style draws you in and just when you thought you had it all figured out he forces you to rethink your position. Excellent!
8. A great job of defining the role of our markets.
9. A master at providing countless examples of modern moral dilemmas.
10. The creative minds of the free markets...interesting business models.
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166 of 208 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good journalism, Bad economics May 21, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Michael Sandel is, to my mind, perhaps the greatest living political theorist. To get an idea of his breadth, check out his books on Amazon (and read my reviews of a couple). This book, however, is really journalistic social commentary and says nothing new. However, it is great reading, as Sandel has done an excellent job at amassing anecdotes to the effect that more and more of social life takes the form of market interactions.

His main point is that there are moral dimension concerning the way we make agreements and distribute the rights and duties of participating in society, and the use of markets and contracts are only one way, and not always the morally correct way.

My favorite example of this is a sketch on the sitcom Seinfeld, where on Elaine's birthday, George and Kramer give her thoughtful gifts, while Jerry give her a sum of money. When Elaine opens the envelope and sees the money, she exclaims rather incredulously, "Money! You gave me money on my birthday!" Jerry explains that money is better than some other gift, because you can spend it any way you want. Elaine will have none of it. "Money! I can believe you gave me money on my birthday."

How about a personal example? Many years ago, when I was teaching at Harvard, my wife and I had a dinner party for a half dozen Harvard faculty and their spouses. Two days later I received a letter in the mail from one of the guests. The envelope contained a $20 bill (a lot of money in those days) and a note saying "Thank you so much for your hospitality." NEVER in my life was I so deeply insulted. I learned after some inquiries that the gentleman was not mentally balanced, and he took offense to my criticism of s United Nations resolution that Zionism is a form of racism.
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83 of 107 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Incomplete May 5, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As usual, Michael Sandel has written a very readable and highly interesting treatment of a topic. He's already attempted a critique of (small "l") liberalism Liberalism and the Limits of Justice and genetic engineering (The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering). Here, he is trying to articulate why markets, as effective as they are, should not be allowed to infiltrate certain areas of life. Unfortunately, as interesting and engaging as this work is, it is pretty incomplete.

First, the good: Sandel has done his research, and it shows most in the examples he uses to illuminate his point. Paying scalpers to get tickets to a "free" concert on a public stage? Paying kids to get good grades? Paying for votes, or access to a public official? In bringing up cases like these, Sandel tests our moral intuitions about whether certain things just should not be for sale.

The two primary arguments he uses in his negative answer to the above question are (a) fairness, and (b) corruption. Paying a scalper for "in demand" tickets to a free concert (when one could have just stood in line like everyone else) is unfair in the sense that what was supposed to be rationed in a first-come-first-serve way (stand in line, get a ticket while supplies last) now becomes rationed by how much money you have. Paying for votes means that, in effect, political rule-making goes to the highest bidder (rather than everyone having one and only one vote). And corruption?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking.
Mr. Sandel does a great job of bringing to light the underlying sickness that seems to have infected our society. Read more
Published 12 days ago by Jim McCoy
5.0 out of 5 stars important and thought-provoking.
Very thought- provoking, well-reasoned. An eye- opener! Well-written, understandable even for those without an Economics background. Read more
Published 14 days ago by Jacquelyn
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading
Michael Sandel is the rock star of ethics. This book should be required reading for everyone. No matter how efficient and wonderful markets and technology may be (Amazon, Google,... Read more
Published 21 days ago by Heathcliff-Gonzalez Family
5.0 out of 5 stars There's an opportunity here!!!!
Great read about our greed for constantly making a buck. Our freedom to choose is clouded by the right to make money. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Richard Ritacco
5.0 out of 5 stars A very provocative book: sees culture here in a new light
A very provocative book. Caused me to rethink our society as driven by commercial interests. The book is even handed in that the citations include economics and social critics . Read more
Published 1 month ago by marion holt
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome!
Sandel is a wonderful author, and you can tell by the way he writes that he is a wonderful teacher in the classroom. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jeffery L Irvin Jr
4.0 out of 5 stars It opens your eyes...
This book makes you think about some aspects of modern life we are becoming used to, but needing longer reflections.
Published 2 months ago by Baguzzi Sergio
4.0 out of 5 stars A discussion extremely relevant for the times
Michael Sandel raises and discusses issues that are very relevant for our times. Before I read this book the fact that markets were entering every walk of life was troubling me... Read more
Published 2 months ago by gmohnkrishnan
3.0 out of 5 stars Too One-Sided
Though the book provides many great arguments, it seemed like during a few of the presented situations weren't as cut-and-dry one-sided as what the author presented.
Published 2 months ago by Ryan Cassidy
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed Feelings
A decent book, I enjoyed the reading of it. I didn't feel like I learned a great deal, however. The author asks more questions than he answers, which in hindsight I think is his... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Chad
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