"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. Example sections: (i) hiring friends (ii) auctioning college admissions
(4) Markets in Life and Death. Examples include (i) betting on death (ii) death bonds (iii) Internet death pools
(5) Naming Rights. Examples: (i) ads in books (ii) commercials in classrooms (iii) bathroom advertising
Within each of these parts is at least one section on some aspect of economics. Examples of these sections include:
(1) Markets versus Queues
(2) The economic approach to life
(3) Coercion and corruption
(4) Ethics and economics
The best thing about this book, in my opinion, is that it makes you think. Some seemingly innocent business transactions are not so innocent at all when you think about them.
When it comes to moral matters such as the moral limits of markets, we have to remember that we have heads to use, and we need to use them, for our own good and others'. Nobody else can do our thinking for us and those who presume to do so should be viewed with suspicion. Morality should provide the conditions on which we may all live the best lives we can.
Finally, there are two problems I had with this book:
First, I said above that each part has "at least one section on some aspect of economics" I would've liked to have had all these particular sections in a separate part of their own. By putting these sections throughout the book, it made the book seem scattered.
Second, the subtitle of this book is "the moral limits of markets." Yet, there is no definition of the word "moral" in this book.!! As well, I think a small, general discussion of morality (which is, I admit, a huge topic) at perhaps the beginning would have been beneficial.
In conclusion, this book provides a good analysis of the morality behind some economic transactions. I leave you with this book's final paragraph:
"And so, in the end, the question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together, Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy?"
(first published 2012; introduction; 5 chapters; main narrative 205 pages; notes; acknowledgements; index; a note about the author)
<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>
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. On the matter of life insurance and who you can insure, Sandel makes the point that the many ways of leveraging money in this field comes up short when defining what is a good bet against death and destruction. Even insurance companies, with all their actuarial charts, haven't been having a great run of success lately with all the disasters happening across the world. As statistical studies and anecdotes testify to, there is still a strong belief that money doesn't necessarily buy happiness, integrity, peace of mind, or health. This little study is worth looking at for what it attempts to show is the real limits to the utility of money. While it is a lure, it does not always deliver on what it promises.
on January 24, 2015
I bought the book brand new hardcover from Bargain Books for about $10, whereas Amazon sells it for $40, but the copy I received is not an original, it is a reprint with larger type for people with reading impairment. It was specified "large print" in the book description, but I didn't give it attention. I guess I will still be able to read it again when I get old with presbyopia! So beware when you order, unless you specifically want this type of book. Besides that, everything is perfect.