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Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets Hardcover – Jun 12 2010


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"A wonderfully lucid tour of the thinking on markets over the years by economists and philosophers, from Adam Smith through Ronald Dworkin. Her main focus is markets that almost all find offensive: child labor, sex, kidneys. But the lessons she draws from them raise hard questions about the markets for health care, education, and maybe even credit derivatives." --Harvard Business Review


"Satz here provides a rigorous analysis of the relation between morality and the role of markets. Satz's contributions will be useful for a wide range of scholars concerned with ethics, moral theory, and economics. Highly recommended." --CHOICE


"Why not put everything up for sale--shoes and sex, cars and kidneys, blackberries and babies? Drawing on history and philosophy, economics and sociology, Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale presents a powerful defense of a bracing answer to this question. According to Debra Satz, we can have markets for everything or we can have a democratic society, but we cannot have both. Satz's argument is subtle, rich, and complex, but in the end, the choice she presents us with is that simple."--Joshua Cohen, Stanford University


"This is a major accomplishment, and a compelling study for everyone interested in exploring the moral limits of markets. Satz seamlessly integrates moral reflection with concrete studies of how specific markets actually work. She provides an outstanding model of how empirically responsible moral inquiry should be conducted."--Elizabeth Anderson, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


"In the modern world markets are central to our lives. We sell our labor and buy the goods and services we want. Markets can lead to economically efficient outcomes that could not be reached by other means. But markets have their limits. As Debra Satz points out, we reject markets in child labor, organs, votes or human beings, among other things. Sometimes we reject markets because they are inefficient. But, Satz argues, efficiency is not the only value in play, for markets affect 'who we are, how we relate to each other and what sort of society we can have.' Markets, Satz, demonstrates, are far too important to be left to economists. In this masterful work, the culmination of many years of thought, Satz provides a highly original framework to assist our reflections on which markets are beneficial and which, as she puts, it are 'noxious'."--Jonathan Wolff, Professor of Philosophy, University College London


"Our intuitive reaction that there are some trades that should not be made has received little understanding from economic analysis. Satz has greatly clarified the issues by making clear the social role that markets play, both in their own performance and in their consequences. She is discriminating in her analysis, pointing out the markets may sometimes contribute to the achievement of broader social values and better interactions while at other times they may reinforce bad consequences. This is a work that will have to be studied and taken account of by all those concerned by the role of the market as compared with other social mechanisms."--Kenneth J. Arrow, Nobel Laureate in Economics, Stanford University


"A rigorous and pertinent inquiry into the relationship between morality and markets and the need for regulation of specific commodity markets." --Publishers Weekly


"Satz's analysis is likely to be the focus of much debate among political philosophers, as those with a libertarian bent endeavor to respond to herwell-crafted critique" --Library Journal


"Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale is intelligent, insightful and on the whole convincing, and even those readers who already agree with most of Satz's conclusions regarding the justifiability and permissibility of particular sorts of markets will learn from it." --Troy Jollimore, Truthdig


"Satz's contribution will be useful for a wide range of scholars concerned with ethics, moral theory, and economics. Highly recommended." --Choice


"This book is third in the Oxford Political Philosophy series and offers a rich argument about the morality of markets and the limits of our political and philosophical categories when looking at various markets, such as those in human organs or child labor." --Christine M. Fletcher, Journal of Markets and Morality


About the Author

Debra Satz is Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University.

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Amazon.com: 11 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Indeed! Aug. 5 2011
By Massimo Pigliucci - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The idea that not everything should be for sale, or that markets are not a panacea for all human problems, should be commonsense. And yet, it is far too easy in contemporary discourse to find people that argue for the rule and efficiency of markets everywhere, apparently without pausing to consider what it is that markets do and how. That's where Satz's book excels. The author begins the book with an enlightening discussion of what markets do (and don't do), which provides the necessary bases for the second part, on the history of economics (many people will be surprised to read some of the things "invisible hand" theorist Adam Smith actually wrote), the scope and place of markets in egalitarian political theory, as well as the notion of "noxious" markets. The last part of the book explores in depth several examples of noxious markets, including markets in women's' reproductive labor, sexual labor, slavery, and human organs. I actually agree only in part with the author's take on what limits the scope of markets: Satz criticizes any notion of limits imposed by concepts related to the intrinsic value of certain human attributes, seeking instead of casting the discussion in terms of highly unequal power relations between sellers and buyers in noxious markets. I think both perspectives make sense and can be operationalized. Nevertheless, no sensible person can read Satz and still maintain simplistic ideas about the efficiency and sacredness of unregulated markets. Then again, there are plenty of non sensible persons out there.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Beats Sandel by a margin Dec 29 2013
By JJ vd Weele - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Many of us feel uncomfortable with markets for particular goods like human organs, front positions in a queue or even education or health care. Why this is so and whether our discomfort is justified has been the focus of several recent books by moral philosophers, most prominent amongst them being the book “What Money Can’t Buy” by Michael Sandel. However, for several reasons, the book by Satz is the better one by quite a margin.

In contrast to Sandel, Satz downplays the argument that markets corrupt the meaning of goods and crowds out intrinsic motivations to supply certain goods. I believe this is a good choice, as Satz points out that while this `corruption’ may occur for some goods (which is why honorary awards are not bought and sold), it certainly does not in general. For example, many people find the bible to be full of meaning, but do not object to it being bought and sold in the market. In addition, while I know from my own research field that financial motivations may crowd out civic motivations in some cases, there are examples where the opposite is true and even more examples where civic motivations are simply not strong enough to lead to a meaningful supply of desired behavior.

A second, and perhaps more important point in favor of Satz is that she makes an explicit effort to deliver a framework to think about morals and markets, whereas Sandel often seems to rely on moral intuitions and the shock value of his examples. To this end, Satz carefully reviews two dominant frameworks in political economy (which gives a stylized accounts of the conditions for the efficiency of markets) and political philosophy (which discusses the moral status of inequalities resulting from market exchange). She shows how these paradigms need to be augmented to account for what she calls “noxious markets”.

One key condition for the validity of market exchange is that the interaction partners need to have ‘equal standing’. This means not only that they are both well informed about the transaction, but also that they are not so desperate that they accept any transaction, or have their interests misrepresented. In addition, she considers the consequences of markets transactions for participants, placing great emphasis on the development of values and capabilities. (Here, it is a pity that she does not relate more closely to the work by Amartya Sen). These conditions are discussed in the context of prostitution, child labor, voluntary slavery and exchange of human kidneys.

Satz’ arguments are always nuanced, as she insists that the context determines not only which markets are noxious, but also what policy is best applied to such markets (regulation versus abolition). This makes the book a more demanding read than Sandel’s, but from my perspective as a researcher in economics, much more rewarding as well.
18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Disappointing... Oct. 19 2010
By Mr P - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As someone who is broadly sympathetic to Satz's critiques of unlimited markets, I was excited to hear what this fairly well-known philosopher had to say. Unfortunately, I was majorly disappointed with the book.

The dust jacket claims it will "engage not only philosophers but also political scientists, economists, legal scholars, and public policy experts." As a philosophy graduate student, I rarely found the book engaging. The ideal theory she does is VERY underdeveloped. She claims to have four parameters to judge whether a market is noxious, but in the end, her main concern is usually whether some market undermines the equality of citizens. That's fine, but why spend a whole chapter talking about these four parameters? Her chapter on the history of economics is rather head-scratching, and is constantly cherry-picking quotes from authors who, were they alive, certainly wouldn't support her argument.

The second half of the book examines various controversial markets (child labor, prostitution, contract pregnancy, etc). There are some stronger parts in this half, but overall, it still left me dissatisfied. Her "policy prescriptions" for the markets basically amount to "don't ban it, but regulate it to make sure that no one involved is forced into it or is unable to get out of it." We get such uncontroversial statements as "child labor that is abusive to children threatens the core of their lives and should not be tolerated." Who would argue with that? Statements like this are especially surprising when you notice how short the chapters are.

Satz's overall project is an interesting one, but her execution of it in this book is quite poor.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
For a left-libertarian alternative on unjust contracts check out David Ellerman Nov. 1 2014
By myopiniononthis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I feel obliged to comment as a left-libertarian because most Americans are only familiar with right-libertarianism ( a recent and peculiar version of a tradition that was for centuries liberal or socialist). Left-libertarians would reject Satz's arguments about morality ( which is subjective after all) and harm to society. But they do deal with her other categories of weak agency and inequality. Many people are familiar with Noam Chomsky but may want to check out a more obscure writer, economist David Ellerman. Ellerman focuses on inalienable rights, contracts and the history of semi-voluntary forms of slavery. He basically comes to the conclusion that all wage labor should be abolished and replaced with worker owned cooperatives. He served at the World Bank under Stiglitz and it's kind of cool that a person so far to the left served at such a conservative institution. So if you are generally interested in the issues of exploitation and coercive contracts but Satz's moralizing leaves a bad taste check out Ellerman. Another noteworthy tangent is Kevin Carson's writing on what he calls "contract feudalism".
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Regulate markets when they fail to preserve a society of equals March 22 2011
By Matt Mitterko - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Debra Satz's new book focuses on the limits of the market from two perspectives that could be broken up in contemporary philosophical parlance as ideal and non-ideal. The first half of the book outlines the ideal conditions for a market: what a market is, how the concept of a market has been redefined over 300+ years of economic thought, how philosophers have attempted to constrain markets, and how markets fail. The second half focuses on how, in light of Satz's ideal theory, the market should be restricted when faced with specific nonideal cases: women's reproductive and sexual labor, child labor, voluntary slavery, and the sale of human organs. I should state that, while I have one quibble with the ideal theory presented, I find much to agree with and the analysis Satz provides throughout the book is very compelling.

Each half of the book is strong on its own. The second chapter on the development of the concept of the market as a heterogeneous collection of institutions based on varying needs, rather than a uniform homogenous set of integrated markets, makes clear the value in viewing some markets as substantively different than others. Satz argues that key insights were lost when economists from the 19th century onward replaced the notion of markets as a system of relationships between classes, to be used for the end of producing a good society. Markets are linchpins to improving the lot of citizens via a change in social arrangements, rather than by simply maximizing consumer preferences. In addition, Satz establishes a framework to determine whether a market fails to preserve social equality in Chapter 4, as demonstrated by one of four conditions: weak agency, vulnerability, and extreme harms to an individual or society.

Satz spends the second half of the book on specific markets (reproductive and sexual labor, human organs, child labor, slavery) and their regulation. She uses the framework for noxious markets to show that a range of markets can be regulated differently, depending on their contribution to social inequalities. She does not hold that any of these specific markets inherently contribute to some citizens' inability to participate as equals, but does claim that they all perpetuate social injustices which must be remedied in some way. Whether a market should be regulated or abolished depends on the nature of the condition the noxious market imposes on a society's citizens.

Ultimately though, I found myself hoping there would be a little bit more to Satz's ideal theory, which would clarify what the conditions for a society of equals are, and which institutions are necessary for Satz's brand of democratic equality. The brief sketch she provides lists some non-economic features of society that are required for citizens to function as equals: that citizens have adequate capabilities, have the ability to have self-respect, that pervasive social inequalities be resolved, all citizens have equal standing amongst each other. It is clear that these features undergird her restrictions on markets, and in the conclusion she states that "some goods need to be provided outside the market if citizens are to be treated as equals." And the book's subject is markets, not institutions in general. But given that interactions between market and non-market institutions are often where conflicting values are at stake, I hoped to learn a little more about how these institutions could co-exist to support a society of equals.


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