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What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets Paperback – April 2, 2013
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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 : 5.96 x 0.68 x 8.33 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #31,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The right to name a building, office, stadium and you-name-it in return for a monetary contribution has clearly infiltrated the halls (also for sale) of higher, and even K-12 education. From the standpoint of public education, Sandel argues that “Rather than raise the public funds to educate our children, we choose instead to sell their time and rent their minds to Burger King and Mountain Dew.” (Recall the fictional version of this in the novel, Infinite Jest, and its “year of the whopper, etc”.) The difficulty with this argument, however, is that it assumes there exists some level of taxation (school revenue) at which education administrators and others will have all the funding they need - a level of funds above which they would not pursue more. In theory such a “world” is possible, but it’s difficult to imagine that level of satisfaction could ever be reached. It’s rather akin to a comment once made about Harvard’s endowment; large as the endowment may be, there is, according to Harvard’s development office, no limit to how big it can get.
It’s difficult, in other words, to imagine a world in which prices are no longer attached to just about everything. That being said, Sandel has done readers a tremendous service by calling attention to an aspect of our lives that has, to date, gone largely unnoticed and unexplored.
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.
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....
As someone who did his bachelors in Economics, I can attest to the importance of recognizing the limits of market reasoning to topics which should be approached from an ethical background.