Should 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 Can't 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 don't 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 What Money Can't Buy, Sandel 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 don't honor and that money can't buy?
"I found myself over and over again turning pages and saying, 'I had no idea.' I had no idea that in the year 2000 . . . 'a Russian rocket emblazoned with a giant Pizza Hut logo carried advertising into outer space,' or that in 2001, the British novelist Fay Weldon wrote a book commissioned by the jewelry company Bulgari . . . I knew that stadiums are now named for corporations, but had no idea that now 'even sliding into home is a corporate-sponsored event' . . . I had no idea that in 2001 an elementary school in New Jersey became America's first public school 'to sell naming rights to a corporate sponsor.'"—Thomas Friedman, New York Times
"What Money Can't Buy is replete with examples of what money can, in fact, buy . . . Sandel has a genius for showing why such changes are deeply important."—Martin Sandbu, Financial Times
"What Mr. Sandel does not offer is prescriptions for rolling back the clock. He is such a gentle critic that he merely asks us to open our eyes . . . Yet What Money Can't Buy makes it clear that market morality is an exceptionally thin wedge."—Jonathan V. Last, The Wall Street Journal
"In a culture mesmerized by the market, Sandel's is the indispensable voice of reason . . . if we . . . bring basic values into political life in the way that Sandel suggests, at least we won't be stuck with the dreary market orthodoxies that he has so elegantly demolished."— John Gray, New Statesman
"Sandel is a political philosopher who makes us think about what it means to be good."—Andrew Anthony, The Guardian
"This entertaining and provocative book is full of examples of vulgar commercialization . . . A lot of us will agree that there is far too much of this in modern life. However, there are examples in this book of the expansion of markets in ways that many people, especially economists, would mostly regard as beneficial, but the author argues are degrading . . . Sandel is particularly opposed to the idea, attributed to economics, that all human relations are market relations. His opposition to market relations stems not from an argument about fairness (that rich people can afford more), or about blackmail (poor people are effectively forced to make unpalatable choices because they need the money). Instead, his argument is that introducing market choices into domains where civic values ought to prevail has a degrading and corrosive effect . . . What Money Can't Buy will tap into a widespread unease about having to limit government and accept a larger private domain in this age of austerity; and about crass commercialization when unemployment and inequality are too high."—Diane Coyle, Independent
"Brilliant, easily readable, beautifully delivered and often funny . . . an indispensable book."—David Aaronovitch, Times
"Provocative and intellectually suggestive . . . amply researched and presented with exemplary clarity, [it] is weighty indeed—little less than a wake-up call to recognize our desperate need to rediscover some intelligible way of talking about humanity."—Rowan Williams, Prospect
"Sandel is probably the world's most relevant living philosopher, thanks to the hugely popular course he teaches at Harvard, ‘Justice' . . . To make his argument Sandel stays focused on the everyday; he's a practical philosopher. He asks what it says about us that we employed more mercenaries than U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan? What about the idea that we should sell immigration rights? Does that cheapen the idea of citizenship?"—Michael Fitzgerald, Newsweek
"There is no more fundamental question we face than how to best preserve the common good and build strong communities that benefit everyone. Sandel's book is an excellent starting place for that dialogue."—Kevin J. Hamilton, The Seattle Times
"Ed Miliband has been reading What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, Michael Sandel's elegant and provocative critique of 'the era of market triumphalism.' According to the Harvard professor, 'Our only hope of keeping markets in their place is to deliberate openly and publicly about the meaning of the goods and social practices we prize . . . the question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together.' It is no surprise that this particular monograph should appeal to the Labour leader at this particular moment, when precisely the same questions—and more besides—are being confronted, for the highest stakes, across a continent."—Matthew d'Ancona, Evening Standard
"Sandel . . . sounds the alarm that the belief in a market economy diminishes moral thought . . . An exquisitely reasoned, skillfully written treatise on big issues of everyday life."—Kirkus Review
Reviews from Goodreads
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Michael Sandel: Why we shouldn't trust markets with our civic life
In the past three decades, says Michael Sandel, the US has drifted from a market economy to a market society; it's fair to say that an American's experience of shared civic life depends on how much money they have. (Three key examples: access to education, access to justice, political influence.) In a talk and audience discussion, Sandel asks us to think honestly on this question: In our current democracy, is too much for sale?Share This