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72 of 84 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking Fun
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...
Published on April 26, 2012 by Book Shark

173 of 217 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good journalism, Bad economics
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...
Published on May 21, 2012 by Herbert Gintis

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72 of 84 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking Fun, April 26, 2012
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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.

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. Line standing business applied to several businesses as a curious example.
11. Some examples will test your moral fiber. I'm not going to spoil it.
12. Thought-provoking questions abound, "Under what conditions do market reflect freedom of choice, and under what conditions do they exert a kind of coercion?"
13. An interesting look at education and pay for grades programs.
14. Health they work?
15. Perverse situations...what would you do?
16. The morality of environmental preservation, climate change, endangered species.
17. Great quotes, "Morality represents the way we would like to work, and economics represents how it actually does work."
18. What money can and cannot buy and why. Great stuff.
19. A fascinating look at the "value" of life. Enlightening.
20. The naming rights chapter goes over the business and ethics of paying for ads in practically every aspect of our lives.
21. Being the big baseball fan that I am I was happy to see a couple of sections on baseball.
22. The two running objections of laissez-faire argument: coercion and unfairness. Plenty of examples.
23. Insight into public marketing.
24. The positives and negatives of commercialism.
25. Comprehensive notes section.

1. So good it was too brief...I wanted more.
2. Perhaps not as great as Sandel's previous book: "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?" but it is still an excellent book.
3. Folks on opposite side of the political spectrum may have something to complain about and that may be a good thing.
4. Surprised there wasn't many shenanigans from Wall Street. That would have taken several books though.
5. Not a ground breaking book just better asked questions.

In summary, I enjoyed this book, it will give you topics to discuss for years to come. What sets Sandel apart is his innate ability to ask interesting questions and provide well thought out answers. Few authors have that innate ability to draw you in and make you ponder your arguments. The book has few shortcomings including the fact that is indeed a short book and a lot may in fact be logical to many. A 4.5 star book out of five. That being said, if you are looking for a philosophical book that is a treat to read, "What Money Can't Buy" is worth every penny. I highly recommend it!

Further suggestions: The excellent, "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?" by Michael J. Sandel, "Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present" by Jeff Madrick, "Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters" by Richard Rumelt, and "The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality" by Richard Heinberg.
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173 of 217 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good journalism, Bad economics, May 21, 2012
Herbert Gintis (Northampton, MA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Hardcover)
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. When I confronted him directly, he accused me of being a CIA agent (this was an insult in those days).

So if you have not ever thought much about when markets are the right way to interact and when they are not, you will get a lot out of this book. Sandel makes the obvious point that paying someone to wait in line for you to get into the fancy museum may be immoral because people should have access to the museum on the basis of their capacity to wait in line, not their wealth. But Sandel does not try to formulate a comprehensive moral structure that tells us when to use markets and when not. I think he should have tried.

Sandel lists two main problems with using markets for social interactions. One is that the poor cannot make use of markets. I do not agree with this critique. The poor are excluded from participation in many aspects of life, and the cure is to eliminate poverty, not to make sure others are also excluded from monetary exchanges. The other is that monetizing social relations leads to a decline in moral sensibility. For instance, if firms can pay for the right to emit carbon into the atmosphere, this erodes the moral obligation we all have to reduce pollution. This is because paying for pollution legitimizes pollution and turns a social decision into a purely private decision.

I think this is just wrong. We do not expect firms in a competitive economy to sacrifice profits on behalf of the environment. We expect firms to obey the laws concerning emissions. The notion that CEO morality can replace regulation is really silly. Of course, when it comes to private life, Sandel's critique has a great deal of force. But we all know that, and few of his examples are this (private) form.

Sandel does not like economists, but his critique of economics is ill-informed and anecdotal. The The idea that not all valuable things should be bought and sold on markets has been known for centuries, certainly since the anti-slavery movement in England, and all mature economists understand this well. The fact that an economist can gain his fifteen minutes of fame once in a while be advocating the suppression of non-monetary gift-giving should not be interpreted as an exercise of brilliant economic argument. We do not have an adequate theory of when the exchange of valuable entities are best left to the market and when they should be regulated by other mechanisms, such as queues, social norms or laws, but the notion that economists have gotten this all wrong is just absurd.

Sandel's point that hat monetary incentives can crowd out moral incentives has been known at least since Richard Titmus's 1971 book, but it is certainly not a cut-and-dry issue. For instance, in 2008 economists Laurence Goette and Alois Stutzer conducted a large field experiment in Switzerland, found that offering lottery tickets increased turnout at blood drives. More generally, Nicola Lacetera and Mario Macis found that donors prefer small in-kind rewards to monetary incentives. On the other hand, economists are often correct in saying that if voluntary contributions do not elicit enough participation, then monetary incentive may do so, despite the fact that they completely drive out moral incentives. By neglecting this point, Sandel gives the impression that wherever the supply of a social good or service is governed by altruistic motivations, is a social evil to replace moral incentives with financial incentives. This is simply not the case, and his critique of Kenneth Arrow and Lawrence Summers is therefore faulty.

In the same vein, economists Ernst Fehr and Klaus Schmidt, in a paper published in the European Economic Review in year 2000, showed that basing a business relationship in part on trust rather than relying upon complete contractual specification, can increase both the efficiency and the fairness of the relationship. This is just one of many contributions by economists that belie Sandel's crude depiction of economic theory. Does he really believe that nothing has changed in the twenty first century?

Sandel is persistent in his critique of economics, but he smears all of economic theory with the broad brush of neoclassical economics of a previous era. The impression given in this book is that it is not worth studying economics, because it is incurably ideological and incapable of dealing with contemporary social policy issues. This, I believe, is simply not the case.

Sandel consistently ignores contemporary economic theory, espectially behavioral economics. This stance leads him to misrepresent a key issue in contemporary economic policy: the role of corruption in economic efficiency and growth. According to Sandel, corruption is a purely moral issue. ``corruption...points to the degrading effect of market valuation and exchange.'' In fact, corruption is a major impediment to economic growth in both developing and developed economies, as stressed by economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their new book Why Nations Fail.

Sandel's second blind spot is far more serious. By focusing on the marketability of particular things, e misses the larger effect of an economy regulated by markets on the evolution of social morality. Where have movements for religious and lifestyle tolerance, gender equality, and democratic government flourished and triumphed? The answer is in societies governed by market exchange.

Dramatic confirmation of this relationship between markets and morality come from studies of fairness in fifteen simple societies studied by myself and colleagues, described in our book Foundations of Human Sociality: Economic Experiments and Ethnographic Evidence from Fifteen Small-Scale Societies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). These societies consisted of three hunter-gatherers, six horticulturalists, four nomadic herders, and four small-scale, sedentary farmers in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, and they played standard ultimatum, public goods, and trust games, conducted by twelve professional anthropologists and economists. As in advanced industrial societies, all these societies exhibited a considerable degree of moral motivation, subject being willing to sacrifice monetary gain to achieve fairness and reciprocity goals, even in anonymous one-shot situations. More interest for our purposes, we measured the degree of market exposure and cooperation in production for each of these fifteen societies, and we found that simple societies that regularly engage in market exchange with the larger society have more pronounced fairness motivations. The fact that the market generates a high level of economic inequality is incontrovertible, The notion that the market economy makes people greed, selfish, and amoral is simply and dramatically fallacious.
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86 of 111 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Incomplete, May 5, 2012
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This review is from: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Hardcover)
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? Sandel's argument is that introducing monetary incentives crowds out more "genuine" or approprite motivations, as in the case of paying a child to get good grades; suddenly, the child sees getting grades as a service that demands remuneration, rather than something that can be intrinsically valuable. Etc.

My biggest criticism of the book is that, while I think there is something to be said for these arguments, I think there are other arguments (making a similar case) that are better. First, in some of the cases Sandel mentions (paying for votes, for instance) the biggest objection to "marketizing" the phenomenon may be that the results will have effects felt by parties who were not part of the transaction. So, when you and I transact in most cases, there may not be anything wrong with this because the effects of the transaction affect only us. But when votes are sold, what results are policies that affect everyone, not just those who bought and sold the vote.

In some other cases, I just think Sandel is wrong. When talking about selling grades and the idea that offering money for grades crowds out nobler motivations to get good grades, Sandel seems to assume that the two options are (a) pay for good grades, and (b) have students get good grades for the right reasons (feeling of achievement, recognition of the value of learning, etc). But, the entire reason we propose paying kids for good grades is that relying on the power of intrinsic and "nobler" motivations ISN'T WORKING! So, maybe the option is between paying kids for good grades and hoping in vain that our kids get good grades for our "nobler" reasons all the while watching this hope dashed. So, we can compare the "real" market with the "ideal" outcome, or we can compare the "real" market with the "more likely" non-market outcome. In the former, markets look dirty. In the latter, they look like the least worst option. (And if you want a more controversial case, look at some of the libertarian arguments for a market in organ donation and adoption and apply the same reasoning.)

Taking off from this point, I am somewhat sympathetic to Sandel's argument that monetary incentives might "crowd out" nobler motives. But this, it should be pointed out, can also be a virtue of markets! Yes, we can bank on people doing good things out of charity, patriotism, sense of community, etc. And I agree that these virtues should be fostered in people as much as possible. But, again, markets often develop in certain areas because the "nobler" motivations are quite thin and just don't do the job. Sandel may have a point by saying that monetary incentives can "crowd out" nobler ones, but monetary incentives can also induce people who may not have cooperated otherwise to cooperate. At very least, Sandel should have explored the opposite side of this coin, where monetary incentives can actually facilitate cooperation.

I still give this book three stars, because I think there are some great points here, and even when I disagree, I think Sandel gives some interesting arguments. The fairness argument is a good one, as many market advocates make market transactions sound like they are primarily between equal players - Richie Rich pays the high price for health insurance while Poor Pete does not; ergo, says the market advocate, Richie Rich must put a higher value on his health than does Poor Pete. Not necessarily, says Sandel. Richie Rich may just have a lot more money to kick around than Poor Pete, which is a HUGE variable in the equation. It may even be that Richie Rich, in spending that huge amount, may only be paying 1% of his income to health insurance, where Poor Pete pays 20% of his income to a cheaper health plan, and that may show that Poor Pete values his health MORE (as a percentage of income) than Richie Rich. Even as the advocate of markets I am, I applaud Sandel for making this very necessary point (as well as he makes it).

Anyhow, buy the book and read it. Decide for yourself. I happen to think that Sandel, while interesting, is wrong more than he is right. But Sandel's work is always worth a good read.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Triumph in the Immanent Critique of Economics, May 21, 2012
This review is from: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Hardcover)
Michael Sandel is one of the most well-known intellectuals in the United States today. He is fresh off the well-deserved success of his book _Justice_ (sure to become a classic in political philosophy). His latest book _What Money Can't Buy_ is actually quite connected to his previous book _Justice_. In short, whereas in _Justice_ Sandel argues secular citizens in modern societies have a personal responsibility and social obligation to think through moral issues and to carefully and thoughtfully arrive at the best judgment of justice in any personal circumstance or social situation, in _What Money Can't Buy_ Sandel convincingly argues _and_ demonstrates how market relations impede efforts to arrive at the best judgment of justice and morality. In other words, the overarching argument of _What Money Can't Buy_ is that markets often corrupt our _judgment_ of justice and our _doing_ of good action.

It is very important here to underscores the qualifier "markets often", because Sandel does not offer any blanket condemnation of markets, but heeds warning to "the moral limits of markets." Markets certainly help accomplish lots of good, but at other times tend to undermine moral behavior and generate moral corruption (e.g. pp. 34-5). According to Sandel this corruptive effect of markets is not external to markets, but a deep part of what constitutes "market relationships" (e.g. buying and selling commodities and services, in contrast to non-market relationships, e.g. family, friendships, non-monetary reciprocal actions, etc.).

What is most impressive about Sandel's style is how non-polemic he is throughout. Indeed in this book he is often non-philosophical, or at least he stops short of moral philosophy. Sandel presents the reader with dozens and dozens of moral dilemmas, and instead of offering moral reasoning, he attempts to unfold the logic of why we sense a dilemma at all.

For example, suppose a wealthy hiker decides it is worth the $100 fine to litter in the Grand Canyon (p. 65) why would most of us still find this offensive? Because, says Sandel the wealthy hiker "has failed to appreciate [the Grand Canyon] in an appropriate way." Thus, when we get to other circumstances, for example, China's one-child policy, tradable pollution permits, etc., etc., etc. are fines, or the purchase of pollution rights, treating the object in the right way, or have we moved beyond the ability of markets to tackle the question and solve the problem?

The pinnacle of Sandel's book is his discussion and presentation of life insurance. Sandel tells his reader about Michael Rice, a 48-year-old employee of Walmart. While helping a customer carry a television set to her care, Rice collapsed and died of a heart attack. An insurance policy had been taken out with a $300,000 payout to the beneficiary. The purchaser and beneficiary was not Rice's family, but his employer Walmart. Neither Rice nor his family had known of this insurance policy taken out by Walmart, and his family was deeply offended and emotional hurt by the policy and benefit (p. 131ff). Rice's family sued, and the lawsuit revealed Walmart had hundreds of thousands of such ("janitors insurance") policies; and so do 10,000s of other companies. It is a type of investment, or gamble on how long employees will live.

Insurance polices also exist for people dying of a terminal illness (such as aids, cancer, etc.), or "viaticals" (pp. 136 - 41). "Unlike janitors insurance, the viatical business serves a clear social good - financing the final days of people with terminal illnesses. [...] The moral problem with viaticals is not that they lack consent. It's that they are wagers on death that give investors a rooting interest in the prompt passing of the people whose polices they buy" (pp. 138 - 9). A viatical company President shockingly captures the moral dilemma when he says "There have been some phenomenal returns, and there have been some horror stories where people live longer" (p. 137).

The question here is much like our wealthy hiker, are we (as a society of civilized citizens) treating the Grand Canyon and people dying of a terminal illness in the "appropriate ways." Should institutions exist whereby no one need to profit so that terminal ill people have funds for dying?

Sandel's helps us think about the morality of selling the naming rights of buildings, stadiums, etc. (p. 163ff); advertising on individual person's bodies (p. 4) advertising in public schools, on Channel One, and on public school buses (pp. 196 - 201). In his dozens and dozens of moral dilemmas, Sandel _demonstrates_ there is a limit to what we can expect markets to achieve for us, and there seems to be a wide and deep role for philosophy to contribute to social well-being.

Finally, there has been wide criticism of this book for being superficial. There is some warrant to this criticism, but it is warrant that completely misses the mark. Sandel knows his audience, but more importantly he knows his purpose. Sandel's book appears to be written for a popular audience, in part this is true. However, it seems more accurate to say Sandel's intended audience is economists and those who teach economics, but written in such a way that a popular audience can listen in. Sandel's purpose is quite simple, markets and the `science of economics' rarely, if ever, are independent of moral philosophy (indeed the first economists, including Adam Smith, were moral philosophers). In this sense this book is an immanent critique of economic reasoning and the shallowness and absence of moral reasoning in economic textbooks.

In this sense, this book is deeply philosophical, indeed sophisticated philosophy of immanent critique. Immanent critique employs the logic and language of its subject and demonstrates its limitations and contradictions. Thus, this book is riddled with economic language and lingo. The book is a triumph in immanent critique of economics as a discipline; and a successful and important follow-up to Sandel's _Justice_. If this book is a successful work of immanent critique, hopefully Sandel will put forth the effort to argue for the construction of institutions and incentives to supersede the moral limitations of markets.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Anti-Freakonomics, May 30, 2012
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This review is from: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Hardcover)
Professor Sandel has put together an interesting book that is brilliant in parts and lamentably incomplete in others.

Starting with the good, Professor Sandel makes wonderful and compelling points about the things we lose when we apply market principles to everything. In particular, I found his discussion of the loss of a sense of place and community when the naming rights for stadiums are sold to corporations. I also found his argument (repeated regularly) that market incentives crowd out intrinsic rewards for achieving desirable endeavors to be very interesting. I'm not sure I agree with it but it did make me think. Finally, the major premise of his book is very compelling: our political and public discourse needs more moral consideration, not less. Today, with the concern over vitriol in politics, I think this is an important point to develop.

Unfortunately, those points were left undeveloped. I expected an in-depth philosophical discussion about what it means to live well similar to Christopher Lasch's books. Each time I read one of Professor Sandel's brilliant sentences I was hoping he would explore the idea in detail, unpacking the subtleties of his arguments. I was always left wanting in that regard. Often the philosophical discussions were washed away in the flood of examples. While I appreciate empirical evidence and anecdotes, I find it strange that a book about the limits of economics followed the format of Freakonomics. I also cannot help but wonder if the decision to tread lightly into serious political philosophy was guided by a desire to achieve widespread distribution and readership; in other words by the desire for commercial success.

In the final analysis, this book made me think about the consumer mentality and how we have "marketized" more and more spheres of our lives. It was thought provoking but I wanted more guidance (or at least a more academic argument) from a philosophy professor.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book changed some of my views and opened me up to new ones, May 12, 2012
This review is from: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Hardcover)
My first introduction to Michael Sandel was the iTunes lectures on political philosophy lectures he gave at Harvard. I watched each of his lectures twice, and soaked in Professor Sandel's insights and superb teaching style. The lectures prompted me to read numerous philosophical works of the past, as well as some of Sandel's other works. I knew I had to read his newest book when I saw it in the philosophy section of the book store the other day, and I feel a better person for having done so.

The author states that he does not have the answers to many of the questions and ideas raised in his book but that his overall goal is to get a discussion started. A discussion about whether or not our society should allow the free markets to enter any and all aspects of our lives. Sandel aptly argues that the free market is not a system that is blind to morals and ethics. He relies on two ideas that are brought up time and time again throughout the book: 1) inequality and 2) corruption. One of the author's points that has been a bit of a game changer for me is the idea that markets do not necessarily get goods into the hands of those who value them most. He uses an example of great seats at a baseball game to demonstrate his point. Sandel says that those who are willing to pay the most for great baseball tickets may not be those who value them most highly but merely those who have the deepest pockets. Surely there are kids watching games on TV who know every stat, collect every card, and worship players beyond individuals with the deepest pockets. For many, purchasing a ticket represents a large percentage of their income, which in turn represents their higher valuing of the ticket than the individual who is spending a much smaller percentage of his/her income to purchase a great ticket. This is such a simple principle but one which I had not given much thought to previously. This idea of markets not always getting goods into the hands of those who value them most highly is found throughout the book.

Sandel uses so many recent examples to illustrate his many points, that this book is not only a great introduction into ethics and values but also a great primer into modern situations/events that affect each of us. I found the examples to be very helpful. I also found myself disagreeing with many of his suppositions. I admit that I am a bit of a Nietzschean, and Sandel's idea's of right and wrong are sometimes frustrating. For people like myself who believe strongly in moral relativism and social constructionism, it was difficult to accept Sandel's views on things being good or things being inherently bad. Of course as an adherent of many of Nietzsche's ideas I also realized that we are therefore free to defend whatever ethical principles we choose, provided they has a basis in logic. Sandel, for the most part is quite logical, and rather calm in the face of such partisan issues.

Sandel's book is rather short but incredibly concise. I was amazed at how much he was able to cover in 203 pages. I found myself questioning many of my beliefs about how the world should work, and that is always a wonderful feeling. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in bettering society, politics, economics, or philosophy. The author is to be commended for succeeding in what was for me, the beginning of a discussion of ideas I was previously sure I had the answers to. The binding is good, the paper quality more than acceptable, and the type set attractive.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A well written explanation of why you should be stopped from spending your own money, August 23, 2013
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This review is from: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Hardcover)
Michael Sandel's book What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of markets and either a misunderstanding of market arguments, or an unfamiliarity with the breadth of such arguments. It further shows an over reliance on his own idea of virtue ethics and an Aristotelian paternalism which is incredibly objectionable.

I purchased the book for a graduate school course and, as a read, it's very easy - though I did use audio book as well - so long as you can stomach the arguments. The things that he addresses, he addresses well, but his implicit assumption that the state must exist and equally implicit assertion that it must make people moral is laughable considering that neither of the two points is addressed. If the book was purely concerning moral theory, it would be a wonderful treatise on living "the good life". How it is written, however, is "You're going to live what I term to be 'the good life' whether you like it or not."

He further ignores the idea of treating people and their contributions to society well, opting instead to vilify those who make large sums of money and champion the poor as titans of virtue and proper valuation, claiming in many places that money cheapens the value of things. Though he dusts over the idea that it is people's minds and attitudes which must change in order to get to the moral society he desires while discussing paying students for achievement, the idea never returns and he advocates using the state to force compliance with his moral code - while decrying the same practice by parents, claiming that it stunts moral education.

All in all, after Justice and this book, I am largely unimpressed with Sandel as a political philosopher due to the fact that the only explicitly political questions that he deals in, he treats as assumptions, and then attempts to work out how such assumptions are aligned.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The questions each of us should ask our conscience, July 7, 2012
This review is from: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Hardcover)
Whether conducting a college class, giving a television interview, or writing for a general audience, as he does in "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits off Markets," Michael Sandel has the insight and courage to ask the questions each of us should ask our own conscience.

Before considering the morality of products and services for sale in this country, Sandel presents a litany of what is now available -- some that will surprise many readers: a prison cell upgrade, the right to immigrate to the US, the right to shoot an endangered black rhino or Artic walrus.

He also cites incentive payments for a variety of behaviors: to become a mercenary to fight in Afghanistan, to stand in line overnight for a lobbyist who wants to attend a Congressional hearing, for a second grader to read a book, for an employee to lose weight to qualify for the company health plan, for the right to buy the life insurance policy of an elderly person who needs cash, pay the premiums and collect the benefits. If you scoff at the latter, be aware that companies such as Walmart can claim a corporate interest that allows them to purchase life insurance on employees as varied as sales clerks and janitors -- without their knowledge or consent -- and upon their death collect benefits tax free! Financial institutions are now considering bundling such "investments" as bonds, as they did with mortgages, and selling these to investors like pension funds or university endowments.

For those who question whether it matters if we become a society where everything is for sale and value is determined by the market, Sandel explores two rather obvious reasons -- inequality and corruption. A society where only the affluent or the criminal can compete has serious problems.

We all recognize there are things like friendship which money cannot buy -- photos for your Facebook page perhaps, but real friends you can count on, not for sale. Few of us, however, have thought seriously about what happens to altruism when a product or service is given a monetary value. Which provides a more desirable life-saving blood supply -- Great Britain's reliance on voluntary donors or the frequent US practice of paying blood donors such as homeless persons? Sometimes market incentives give surprising results, such as the day care center in Israel frustrated by parents who arrived late to pick up their children. When they imposed a fine for late pickups they were surprised that lateness increased dramatically because parents had lost their sense of moral responsibility and now felt they were paying for a service.

Sandel's many examples will leave you fascinated -- and disbelieving. Who knew that there are middlemen who sometimes control gangs of children (shades of Fagan!) to collect autographs from sports heroes which they, in turn, place on the collectable market. Some may criticize Sandel as superficial, but on the contrary, he's wise enough to know that before you can cure apathy you must shock people to attention. This is a deeply thought-provoking book -- one that leaves you wishing you can discuss it with someone else who has read it.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing, May 5, 2012
This review is from: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Hardcover)
In this fairly short book, Sandel brings back some sanity to a world that, at times, seems to have sold its soul to 'The Market'.

It is not a rant or a polemic. It is a careful and thoughtful analysis of the encroachment of economics, market ideas and commodification into areas previous considered to be parts of an ethical and public realm.

As in his previous book, 'Justice', Sandel fills the pages with real, actual examples. From these, he draws out what he considers to be the basic principles underlying the pressure to 'commercialise' and the public harm that ensues. This he sees as being essentially either corruption or unfairness. As he says (and it is worth quoting at length):

'The fairness objection points to the injustice that can arise when people buy and sell things under conditions of inequality or dire economic necessity. According to this objection, market exchanges are not always as voluntary as market enthusiasts suggest. A peasant may agree to sell his kidney or cornea to feed his starving family, but his agreement may not be really voluntary. He may be unfairly coerced, in effect, by the necessities of his situation.

The corruption objection is different. It points to the degrading effect of market valuation and exchange on certain goods and practices. According to this objection, certain moral and civic goods are diminished or corrupted if bought and sold.' (P111)

From these two objections, Sandel looks at, for example, blood donation in the US and the UK. In the US, blood is bought and sold, in the UK it is voluntarily donated. You might say that being able to sell your blood is your choice, but in reality, what happens is that there is, in the US, a movement of blood from the poorest to the richest. In fact, it turns out that the market is, in this case, far from being the most 'efficient' mechanism for providing a need - the UK system is actually more efficient. But it is not just a question of efficiency:

'Economists often assume that markets do not touch or taint the goods they regulate. But this is untrue. Markets leave their mark on social norms. Often, market incentives erode or crowd out nonmarket incentives.' (P64)

The argument for efficiency it seems, is the Holy Grail of economists. They seem to believe that 'economics is a value-free science independent of moral and political philosophy' (P88). This is beautifully but depressingly illustrated by the problems economists face when trying to explain 'gifts' - hugely inefficient, you are always better off giving cash. Economics cannot explain the immaterial aspects of gift-giving.

By putting a price on everything, by overruling objections of unfairness and corruption, the public sphere, the sense of 'we're all in this together' is increasingly eroded. Privileged queue jumping at airports, corporate suites at football grounds, 'gated' communities - all help to stratify a community, encouraging a 'them and us' attitude between the well-off and those not so fortunate.

It seems that economists, with few exceptions, see human being as, in Adam Curtis' phrase, 'lonely robots'. Once you have let market forces in, it is extremely difficult to get them out again, as Colin Crouch also noted, but from a somewhat different perspective. The effects of the resulting erosion of civic duty, public service and the common good are, I would say, plain to see.

As Cyndi Lauper once sang - 'Money Changes Everything'.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important point, hard to argue against, June 22, 2012
I'm sure the latest book by Michael Sandel will generate controversy, particularly because it dares raising serious questions about the dominant free market ideology of the past few decades. Sandel is no anti-market luddite, and understands that capitalism has been and still is an engine for economic prosperity. But, as any good philosopher would do, he is looking at the broader question, at what happens when economics turns into an all-encompassing approach to human relations, relations whose worth is measured with the single common currency of hard cash. Sandel's point is that market values sometimes interfere with ethical values, and that whenever that is the case we ought to ask the hard questions about why we do certain things (like having children, going to sports events and so on) and what we value about them. It's a very Aristotelian / virtue ethics approach to ethical discourse, and one that is all the more important in a modern society whose problems are becoming too complex to be handled by more rigid ethical doctrines, like utilitarianism or deontology. Sandel's approach is the same one he used so effectively in his previous book, Justice: What's the Right Thing To Do? He doesn't begin with lofty moral theory, but with actual examples from everyday life or from the news, and then works his way to the general principles that inform our ethical decision making. At one extreme, it should be obvious that there is no problem at all with certain things being for sale: you want to buy a car, someone else wishes to sell his; as long as the transaction is fair and between consenting adults, there is no problem. At the opposite extreme things should be equally as clear: it is not acceptable, morally, under any circumstances, to sell one's children (or anyone else, really) in slavery. Period, regardless of how much pressure "the market" may exert, or how advantageous the transaction would be, even to the slave. That's because slavery is a mortal blow to human dignity, and because we have moral duties toward our children that include not selling them for profit. The difficult issues, then, are somewhere in the middle: is it ok to buy your place in a queue even though that means that less rich people will never get to see an allegedly public Congressional hearing? Is it acceptable to sell your organs for profit? What about naming rights to public places, including schools and parks? Regardless of whether you'll end up agreeing or not with Sandel, reading the book will make you think hard about what you value and why. Which is the whole point of the exercise.
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What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel (Hardcover - April 24, 2012)
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