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What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets Paperback – April 2, 2013
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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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
“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)
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Top Customer Reviews
Sandel's subject is money, specifically how monetary incentives and disincentives are being used today in a wide array of realms where money was not a factor in the past. Sandel is a philosopher, not an economist or political scientist, and so he asks, "What does this mean? And why should I care?" As he says in the introduction, "to decide what money should--- and should not ---be able to buy, we have to decide what values should govern the various domains of social and civic life. How to think this through is the subject of this book."
To explore the implications of the expansion of the role of markets in our lives, What Money Can't Buy considers two primary aspects: fairness and corruption. The first aspect, fairness, is the more obvious: a wealthier individual will not be affected by a societal incentive/disincentive as much as a poor one. Granted, true, but I do not need a Harvard professor to tell me so. The second aspect is the more interesting: does the use of monetary factors corrupt our sense of values? Are there basic human rights and feelings that should be immune from market manipulation? An interesting example is that of a Swiss town that was a potential site for a nuclear waste dump. The town was a very good site for such a facility, and 51% of the town residents said they would accept it. They were then asked if they would accept the dump if authorities offered to pay an annual inducement of over $8000 per person. The rate of acceptance fell from 51% to 25%. Apparently the residents did not like having the issue turned from one of civic altruism into a pecuniary matter. People do believe that there are issues in which money should not play a role.
The book's prolific examples range from Bruce Springsteen concert tickets to paying for an upgraded prison cell (!) to cap-and-trade. I especially loved the Springsteen example. People were scalping tickets to a Springsteen concert in New Jersey; you may or may not feel this is unethical. However, if you are also told that Springsteen deliberately kept ticket prices low because he is from NJ and wanted ordinary people to be able to come, AND this cost him an estimated $4 million in ticket revenue, does this affect your opinion?
Although I thought Sandel's examples were well-chosen, thought-provoking, and enjoyable, I wish the actual discussion of the philosophical implications of the lessons to be learned had been more extensive. He made ME think, but I'd like to have heard more about what HE thinks. The book was fairly short and over too soon.
For me, the book starts out the strongest with its chapter on queuing systems. The paying of those with idle time to stand in line for congressional hearings by lobbyists and the selling of shakespeare in the park tickets (in manhattan) are used as examples where the norms of first come first serve are overwhelmed by auction systems and how they promote different outcomes.
The author then goes into incentives and how when money is used to change behaviour it can be seen as a form of bribery and corruption. In particular paying kids for grades is used as an example, paying ppl to lose weight as well as paid sterilization of crack users. The well chosen examples by the author forces the reader to think about their value system and how it can be reconciled with "efficient" market outcomes.
The next topic covered is how markets cannot replace certain kinds of relationships and awards. In particular awards based on some form of well defined merit, nobel prizes, oscars etc... as well as things like friendship are corrupted if money is a factor. The author goes on to use outcomes of specific situations and dynamics to argue that the use of markets often change the social norms of an activity and as such economics cannot be viewed as a framework to optimize outcomes but often influences the dynamics of a situation permanently. For example when parents were made to pay a penalty for picking up their kids late, it increased late pickups as the penalty payment became viewed as a fee rather than the breaking of a social norm. When the penalty payment was withdrawn, behaviour remained bad by parents compared to before the implementation of the payment in the first place. Also the use of blood donation vs getting paid for blood is used to show how when paying for blood is the norm it reduces the amount of pure donors.
The author goes on to discuss the life insurance business and the business in monetizing such claims today in return for cash leaving the buyer with a claim on someone else's life for which they have no insurable interest. The underlying change in behaviour by those involved in these transactions here weakens compared to blood donation but nonetheless one questions why there is a place for such a market when reading the chapter.
The author ends with a chapter on the inflitration of advertisement to community activities. Examples of putting advertising on one's house, one's car, one's forehead are all used. The inflitration of advertisement into sports is used as a primary example as is the magnitude of the payments. The change in the price of tickets and the the salaries of players as well as the market value of sports paraphenelia is discussed. This is among the weakest of chapters which relies on nostalgia and romanticism versus a strong point. Moneyball is used as an example of how statistics has made the sport more boring rather than helped the sport. I definitely do not find as much strength in the reasoning towards the end.
All in all What Money Can't Buy brings up a very important point. Economics does not exist as an intellectual discipline to be applied neutrally to improve outcomes. It changes the framework of various situations and the resulting dynamics. If the introduction of money changes the framework of thinking about civic duty then it influences outcomes non-neutrally. As a result economics can tell us within a market setting the best way to facilitate trade or construct an auction but it cannot tell us that the market setting best serves the communities interests- that is for the community to decide from potentially a higher moral plane. People have many aspects to them many of which have nothing to do with desire for money and thus money cannot be used as a measure of utility. People believe that statement to varying degrees, but the fact that they believe in them in varying degrees means there is legitimacy to consider when market outcomes might not serve common interests. I definitely dont believe as strongly as the author on some parts but this book needs to be considered very carefully as the main lesson has strong merit.