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What Money Can't Buy [Hardcover]

Michael Sandel
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Book Description

April 24 2012
Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we allow corporations to pay for the right to pollute the atmosphere? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars? Auctioning admission to elite universities? Selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay?

In What Money Can’t Buy, Michael J. Sandel takes on one of the biggest ethical questions of our time: Is there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don’t belong? What are the moral limits of markets?

In recent decades, market values have crowded out nonmarket norms in almost every aspect of life—medicine, education, government, law, art, sports, even family life and personal relations. Without quite realizing it, Sandel argues, we have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society. Is this where we want to be?

In his New York Times bestseller Justice, Sandel showed himself to be a master at illuminating, with clarity and verve, the hard moral questions we confront in our everyday lives. Now, in What Money Can’t Buy, he provokes an essential discussion that we, in our market-driven age, need to have: What is the proper role of markets in a democratic society—and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets don’t honor and that money can’t buy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sandel is among the leading public intellectuals of the age. He writes clearly and concisely in prose that neither oversimplifies nor obfuscates…. Sandel asks the crucial question of our time: ‘Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?’”—Douglas Bell, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

Michael J. Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University. His work has been the subject of television series on PBS and the BBC. His most recent book is the international bestseller Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Stephen Pletko TOP 50 REVIEWER

"We live at a time when almost everything can be bought and sold. Over the past three decades, markets--and market values--have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us...

Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone but increasingly governs the whole of life. It is time to ask whether we want to live this way...

We [also] need to ask whether there are some things money should not buy. [In other words, what are the moral limits of markets?]"

The above comes from the introduction of this very interesting book by Michael J. Sandel. He is a Professor of Government at Harvard University. Sandel is also an author. His writings have been translated into 18 languages, and his lectures on Justice have been viewed, online and on T.V., throughout the world.

In an economic or business transaction of any kind, both seller and buyer, it is claimed, get what they want. But are there moral implications to some of these transactions?

In this book, Sandel does a good job in providing us with certain market transactions, analysing them, and then detailing the moral implications of said transactions.

This book is divided into parts. Below I will give the name of the part and an example of sections in that part that typifies a particular market transaction:

(1) Jumping the Queue. Sections in this part include (i) hired line standers (ii) ticket scalpers

(2) Incentives. Example sections: (i) paying kids for good grades (ii) paying to kill an endangered species (iii) cash for (female) sterilization.

(3) How Markets Crowd Out Morals.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Money Comes Up Short July 14 2013
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
As we move along in our 21st century lifestyle, the aura of money becomes an ever dominant force in our daily existence. As the traditional medium of economic exchange in global society, it has now reached new heights of mystical attainment in its claim to be able to transform human behavior through the power of incentive. It has been claimed by many that people's views on life, be they religious, economic, political or social, can be easily changed if the price is right. According to Sandel, such an assumption is not entirely accurate because there is a part of us that answers to moral considerations that balk at the notion that money is everything. For Sandel, one of the world's leading economic ethicists, our lives often turn on the question of what money can buy in order to achieve greater security or feeling of happiness. Using the term 'incentive' to head up his discussion on this very controversial and divisive subject, Sandel takes the approach that the promise of money can only go so far in achieving intrinsic value for the individual in the community at large. Incentivizing, with the use of money, someone to do better at school, stop littering, break the smoking habit, abide by the rules of the road, or just desisting from anti-social behavior has mixed results. It has not been shown that money, in the form of a bribe or a fine, changes bad behavior over time. The wealthy in society will quite often see traffic fines as simply the cost of doing business. For instance, Finland's efforts to take it to wealthy drivers who flout the law by forcing them to pay huge fines that match their incomes still have a persistent problem. Then there is the situation where people only perform as intended if the incentive continues. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  154 reviews
64 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking Fun April 26 2012
By Book Shark - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel

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

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 bribes...do 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.
166 of 207 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good journalism, Bad economics May 21 2012
By Herbert Gintis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Michael Sandel is, to my mind, perhaps the greatest living political theorist. To get an idea of his breadth, check out his books on Amazon (and read my reviews of a couple). This book, however, is really journalistic social commentary and says nothing new. However, it is great reading, as Sandel has done an excellent job at amassing anecdotes to the effect that more and more of social life takes the form of market interactions.

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

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

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

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

The two primary arguments he uses in his negative answer to the above question are (a) fairness, and (b) corruption. Paying a scalper for "in demand" tickets to a free concert (when one could have just stood in line like everyone else) is unfair in the sense that what was supposed to be rationed in a first-come-first-serve way (stand in line, get a ticket while supplies last) now becomes rationed by how much money you have. Paying for votes means that, in effect, political rule-making goes to the highest bidder (rather than everyone having one and only one vote). And corruption? 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.
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
By Hans G. Despain - Published on Amazon.com
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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Anti-Freakonomics May 30 2012
By Carlos Webster - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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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