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Economic transactions VERSUS the morality of those transactions
on September 8, 2012
"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>>