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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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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.
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
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.