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What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets Paperback – April 2, 2013
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In What Money Can't Buy, renowned political philosopher Michael J. Sandel rethinks the role that markets and money should play in our society.
Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we put a price on human life to decide how much pollution to allow? 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?
In his New York Times bestseller What Money Can't Buy, Michael J. Sandel takes up one of the biggest ethical questions of our time: Isn't 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?
Over recent decades, market values have crowded out nonmarket norms in almost every aspect of life. Without quite realizing it, Sandel argues, we have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.
In Justice, an international bestseller, 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 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 honor and money cannot buy?
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“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)
About the Author
- Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (April 2, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0374533652
- ISBN-13 : 978-0374533656
- Item Weight : 8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #39,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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Jumping the Queue
Here Sandel brings up the line cutting issue of whether there are certain things we should all have to wait for, or can money buy a fast track. This includes jumping lines at airports, solo carpool drivers, ticket scalping, concierge doctors, and the new line standing business. Are there certain things that all should wait their turn for, or does the childhood rule "don't cut in line" not apply to us so grown up? He also speaks to some of the other ways we allocate things as merit, need, and others.
Incentives are the name of the game of economics. I am not really a student of economics though I do know my way around moral and ethical issues, and this was perhaps my favorite chapter. He raises some tough questions and starts the chapter off with one of the toughest, asking whether drug addicted women should be offered incentives to become sterile. I still don't really know where I stand but here was brought up some great discussion. Being in education I agree with his assessment of corruption coming with paying students for reading or getting good grades, but I also see parallels in this and certain academic scholarships for students who have done well in high school and continue to do well in college. So incentives still play a part for secondary and above education, but perhaps in a little different vein than the direct cash incentives of his case studies. I think his statement here best sums up the chapter, "In general, cash incentives seem to work better at getting people to show up for a specific event-a doctor's appointment or an injection-than at changing long-term habits and behaviors".
How Markets Crowd Out Morals
Actually this was my favorite chapter. What can money buy? Friends, Nobel Prizes, Academy Awards... These are a few examples of things Sandel says we all agree money can't buy. Though any more I would say the way you use your money could buy you many "Friends". Perhaps not in the true sense of the word, but definitely in some ways in which we use the word. "Economists hate gift giving" I was interested about this topic and discussed it with my wife on which she would rather have. I remember how when I was a child getting money was lame, but now at times I would much rather have money than a gift, perhaps I have become corrupted toward the social free market system. I was very surprised by how market incentives tainted civic/national duty. It was a wonderful example of market corruption, but my favorite part is his discussion of the crowding out of non market norms, and the commercialization effect. The rubs comes to intrinsic motivations and external ones, and "when people are engaged n an activity they consider intrinsically worthwhile, offering them money may weaken their motivation" which goes against the fundamental economic theory. At one of the most interesting parts of the book he describes Arrow's two tenants of the market, both of which are very interesting but the second is the one most intriguing. "Ethical behavior is a commodity that needs to be economized" or that "Markets, which rely on self-interest, spare us from using up the limited supply of virtue". Sandel and I both agree that this is a complete falsehood. He goes into some wonderful discussions on love and altruism, but I see that this economizing of virtues distorts the very meaning of the words and "corrupts" them as Sandel might say.
Markets in Life and Death
This chapter discusses some of the moral issues within insurance and the difference between it and death bets. Much of this I didn't know about. I think it shows my own fallenness that as I am reading some of this and thinking how horrible it is, I am also thinking, "I wonder if I can make any money here".
His last chapter mainly discussed advertising and where it should and should not be. While the arguments towards it were slightly on the fairness angle, most dealt with the corruption factor and degradation of the items, places, cars, or school that implemented the advertising. Woven within this chapter is also a theme he has sparsely throughout the book and that is the growing distance between the wealthy and the poor. One thing I think he notices and talks about which I very much admired is that the issue is not so much that certain people now have more money than others do, whether or not that is truer now of today than the past, but rather that the wealthy seems to live in a different world than the rest of us do. At the end of the chapter he calls it skyboxification. Where "the more things that money can buy, the fewer the occasions when people from different walks of life encounter one another". Perhaps we wouldn't really care to much if others had more money than us if they didn't or couldn't use it to separate themselves into their own world. Shouldn't we all be in this thing called life together anyway? I think this is a great aspect and personally I think it is one where the church can speak volumes. In the church community it shouldn't matter if you have money or not, we are all on the same level before God and all need each other in this "common life".
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.
Top reviews from other countries
At the end of the cold war, "markets and market thinking enjoyed unrivaled prestige, understandably so." Sandel admires market capitalism as the mechanism for organizing the production and distribution of goods that has proved most "successful at generating affluence and prosperity." However, he takes issue with the ideological assumption that markets are always the best way of getting goods to those who value them most highly. Although a line of Russian housewives queuing for bread came to epitomize the failure of centralized planning, queues may sometimes work better than markets in maximizing the enjoyment of certain goods. Sandel would probably agree that a free market is the best way of getting bread to consumers, but in other situations queues may do a better job. In any given case, it's "an empirical question, not a matter that can be resolved in advance by abstract economic reasoning."
Markets now "allocate health, education, public safety, national security, criminal justice, environmental protection, recreation, procreation, and other social goods". It's a long list, and perhaps more surprising to British than to American readers. Out-and-out free marketers might be celebrating the fact that we "live at a time when when almost everything can be bought and sold" but the rest of us will be uneasy. Sandel offers two reasons why we should be worried.
First, the more money can buy, the more affluence (or the lack of it) matters. Second, putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them. Inequality increases as more good things are bought and sold: there is not just the usual inequality between rich and poor, now there is a greater range of goods out of reach of the poor. More difficult to grasp, perhaps because we are already so far gone down the market route, is the idea that markets corrupt, because they not only allocate goods, "they also express and promote certain attitudes toward the goods being exchanged."
One of the examples Sandel gives is of kids at an underachieving Dallas school being paid for each book they read. "Paying kids to read books might get them to read more, but also teach them to regard reading as a chore rather than a source of intrinsic satisfaction." In their examination of how capitalism enlarges insatiability by increasingly "monetizing" the economy ( How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life ), the Skidelskys contrast leisure with work, where their sense of leisure is distinguished by an absence of external compulsion. All three authors are concerned with the role of money and markets in achieving - or scuppering - the good life. For Sandel in particular, how we decide what money should, and should not, be able to buy is the key moral question. To this end, we must "decide what values should govern the various domains of social and civic life." Sandel succeeds in this book by enabling us to think this issue through, and by keeping it clearly in view without getting bogged in jargon or abstruse argument.
The phenomenon of "skyboxification" - where luxury boxes segregate rich and poor in modern sports arenas - is for Sandel the epitome of the way in which "commercialism erodes commonality." After a long period when "ballparks were places where corporate executives sat side by side with blue-collar workers" it seems we're returning to an earlier epoch, when senators kept themselves apart from the plebs in the Roman theatre (one difference being that, instead of being high above the field of play, the senators of ancient Rome were nearest the action).
Sandel acknowledges that commercialism does not destroy everything it touches. There were naysayers when Blues musicians plugged in their guitars: it was like putting a dollar sign on it, but who would begrudge John Lee Hooker from earning a living? A clearer example of price driving out value is the way the rich avoid queuing for free tickets for Shakespeare in the Park. Those who can afford to employ a line-standing company are not always those who will most highly value the experience. (Shakespeare himself illustrated opposing attitudes to market values in The Merchant of Venice, in which Antonio demands of Shylock: when did friendship take "A breed for barren metal of his friend?" Shylock later admits: "To buy his favour, I extend this friendship".)
When we decide that certain goods may be bought and sold, "we decide, at least implicitly, that it is appropriate to treat them as commodities". However, not all goods are properly valued in this way. The most obvious example, at least to the modern reader, is human beings: slavery was appalling "because it treated human beings as commodities, to be bought and sold at auction." Today, no country could claim to be civilized if it condoned human trafficking, and this example shows most clearly that, in the end, "the question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together." Democracy may not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life. Insofar as markets undermine commonality and diminish the public character of our common world, they undermine democracy. In Sandel's home country, this would be the very definition of an unAmerican activity.
The book covers in turn paying to jump queues (and secondary markets in ticketing of all kinds, including tickets for the Pope as well as Bruce Springsteen) and paying people to stand in line for you (for tickets to congressional hearings and the like), then incentives (not to procreate, not to pollute, to permit the killing of limited numbers of endangered rhinos or seals), then markets crowding out morals (bought apologies, late collections, the case against gifts - just exchange money, it's much more utilitarian - skyboxes to watch ballgames) , markets in life and death (betting on the lives of others, taking on their life insurance and so on), and finally 'naming rights' (charging for autographs, putting billboards on bodies or nature trails and so on).
Sandel's central thesis - that some of these issues are really about the good life for man, rather than utilitarian economics - is surely proven by the end of the book. (Though note Sandel has almost nothing to say about the good life as such...) And there's interesting anecdotal material on every page (as per the above summary) to keep you interested and alert as a reader. Sometimes, though, I find I am in fact a utilitarian - and that this seems the best route to the good life for humanity. I can't really see what's wrong with pollution permits as a public policy, for instance - of course it would be nice if everyone restrained their own behaviour, but if there's a more efficient way to achieve a good which is a good for the planet, not for the individual, then this is pretty clearly the way to go...But it's a merit of the book that it's always making you think....