What Money Can't Buy

The Moral Limits of Markets

by Michael Sandel

Number of pages: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

BBB Library: Politics and Public Affairs, CSR and NGO

ISBN: 9780374533656

About the Author

He’s a Professor of Government at Harvard University, and has been a visiting professor at the Sorbonne, Paris. He also delivered lectures on human values at the University of Oxford.


Editorial Review

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. As the cold war ended, markets and market thinking enjoyed unrivaled prestige, understandably so. No other mechanism for organizing the production and distribution of goods had proved as successful at generating affluence and prosperity. And yet, even as growing numbers of countries around the world embraced market mechanisms in the operation of their economies, something else was happening. Market values were coming to play a greater role in social life. Economics was becoming an imperial domain. 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.

Book Reviews

"Michael J. Sandel, the Harvard political philosopher, takes a different tack in "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets." He argues that while giving a present may not make much economic sense, it is perfectly sensible in terms of our cultural values. There are social ethics that have long marked the practice, maximizing sympathy, generosity, thoughtfulness and attentiveness. The optimal value, despite what the economists tell us, isn't always the most efficient one." The Wall Street Journal

"Some things, such as love and money, don't need defending from the market because you can never buy the real McCoy, only surrogates or introductions that might lead you to them. Sandel is more worried about the things that can be traded without being completely destroyed, but at the price of becoming somehow degraded or tarnished." The Guardian

"Let's hope thatWhat Money Can't Buy, by being so patient and so accumulative in its argument and its examples, marks a permanent shift in these debates. Markets are not morally neutral. Let's all be clear about that. As Sandel concludes: "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?"" The Guardian

"ThatWhat Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Marketsis a subtle and sophisticated analysis of the impact of the free market on our lives will come as no surprise to readers familiar with the recent work of Professor Michael Sandel of Harvard University."Philosophy Now

"This exceptionally clear and easy-to-read analysis of the way monetary incentives have penetrated our lives is misnamed. It’s about what moneyshouldn’tbuy, rather than what it can’t.Michael Sandelgives many examples of the way that you can buy things that, until recently, were not put up for sale: places at a papal mass; an individual’s fertility; and even other people’s lives (the multi-billion dollar market in re-selling life insurance involves betting on how quickly people will die)." TheTelegraph

"One of the many strengths of What Money Can't Buy, by Harvard professor, political philosopher and public intellectual Michael Sandel, is its willingness to engage fully with the case for extending markets and monetary incentives into every corner of our lives." Management Today

"What Money Can't Buyfurthers Sandel's reputation as a great public intellectual. The book diagnoses the many ways money and economic logic define ever-increasing segments of our lives. Sandel's point is not that markets are inherently evil. He simply asks "whether market norms will crowd out nonmarket norms, and if so, whether this represents a loss worth caring about."" Christianity Today

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Wisdom to Share

We live at a time when almost everything can be bought and sold.

The years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 were a heady time of market faith and deregulation ــــ an era of market triumphalism.

The financial crisis did more than cast doubt on the ability of markets to allocate risk efficiently.

The most fateful change that unfolded during the past three decades was not an increase in greed. It was the expansion of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life where they don’t belong.

Schools in many countries now try to improve academic performance by paying children for getting good grades or high scores on standardized tests.

Health care is another area where cash incentives are in vogue.

Fines register moral disapproval, whereas fees are simply prices that imply no moral judgment.

The disappearance of the class-mixing experience once found represents a loss not only for those looking up but also for those looking down.