What Money Cant Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. SandelShould 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 Cant 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 dont 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 Cant 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 dont honor and that money cant buy?
What Isn’t for Sale?
Sandel Farrar, Straus and Giroux, , pp. In the past few decades, America has gradually transformed from a society that merely has a strong and vibrant free market to a society that treats everything—including civic institutions, death, and friendship—as if it were a part of that market. And while the dominant economic wisdom is that such a transition is a good thing, Sandel argues that in making this cultural change we are destroying the morality of key components of our civic life. Sandel contends that, before we give in to this popular market mentality, we ought to keep two important truths in mind: first, that there are spiritual and moral boundaries that should constrain market forces; and second, that the market by its very nature actually corrupts the virtues of other social categories. Sandel writes:. When we decide that certain goods may be bought and sold, we decide, at least implicitly, that it is appropriate to treat them as commodities, as instruments of profit and use.
Over the past decade, certain services and goods that were once thought to be found in the black market are now entering our market. It is as if every time our country faces a financial crisis, the market experiences a noticeable detachment from morals. Greed and unnecessary risk taking have been the prime suspects Sandel, Michael J. Even though you can buy almost everything, Sandel also lists options if you need some money. He addresses the main problem we face in a society where everything can be purchased and that markets have dictated our lives.
Without quite realizing it — without ever deciding to do so — we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society. The difference is this: A market economy is a tool — a valuable and effective tool — for organizing productive activity. A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor. These are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones. To resolve them, we have to debate, case by case, the moral meaning of these goods, and the proper way of valuing them.
What Isn 't For Sale?
If only that were true. Here's an example of what it means: in , Michael Rice, a year-old employee of the supermarket firm Walmart , collapsed while helping a customer carry a television to her car. So far, a sad but not unusual story; the twist was in the identity of the people who benefited from the insurance. It wasn't Rice's family, who didn't get a penny, but Walmart. In a subsequent lawsuit, it turned out that Walmart had hundreds of thousands of such policies on employees, so every time one of them died, the huge corporation enjoyed a tiny windfall.