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What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets [Hardcover]

Michael Sandel
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 April 2012

Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars, outsourcing inmates to for-profit prisons, auctioning admission to elite universities, or selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay? Isn't there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale?

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.

In What Money Can't Buy, Sandel examines one of the biggest ethical questions of our time and provokes a debate that's been missing in our market-driven age: What is the proper role of markets in a democratic society, and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy?

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (26 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184614471X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846144714
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 15.3 x 23 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 98,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


One of the most popular teachers in the world (Observer )

Sandel is touching something deep in both Boston and Beijing (Thomas Friedman New York Times )

The most influential foreign figure of the year (China's Newsweek )

Few philosophers are compared to rock stars or TV celebrities, but that's the kind of popularity Michael Sandel enjoys in Japan (Japan Times )

One of the world's most interesting political philosophers (Guardian )

What Money Can't Buy selected by the Guardian as a literary highlight for 2012 (Guardian )

America's best-known contemporary political philosopher ... the most famous professor in the world right now... the man is an academic rock star [but] instead of making it all serious and formidable, Sandel makes it light and easy to grasp (Mitu Jayashankar Forbes India )

An exquisitely reasoned, skillfully written treatise on big issues of everyday life (Kirkus Reviews )

Sandel is probably the world's most relevant living philosopher (Michael Fitzgerald Newsweek )

Mr Sandel is pointing out [a] quite profound change in society (Jonathan V Last Wall Street Journal )

Provocative and intellectually suggestive ... amply researched and presented with exemplary clarity, [it] is weighty indeed - little less than a wake-up call to recognise our desperate need to rediscover some intelligible way of talking about humanity (Rowan Williams Prospect )

Brilliant, easily readable, beautifully delivered and often funny ... an indispensable book (David Aaronovitch Times )

Entertaining and provocative (Diane Coyle Independent )

Poring through Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel's new book ... 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 )

A vivid illustration ... Let's hope that What Money Can't Buy, by being so patient and so accumulative in its argument and its examples, marks a permanent shift in these debates (John Lanchester Guardian )

In a culture mesmerised 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 )

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 )

Michael Sandel ... is currently the most effective communicator of ideas in English (Guardian )

Sandel, the most famous teacher of philosophy in the world, has shown that it is possible to take philosophy into the public square without insulting the public's intelligence (Michael Ignatieff New Republic )

About the Author

Michael J. Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University. His legendary 'Justice' course is the first Harvard course made freely available online (www.JusticeHarvard.org) and on television. Hiss work has been translated into 15 languages and been the subject of television series in the U.K., the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Sweden, and the Middle East. He has delivered the Tanner Lectures at Oxford and been a visiting professor at the Sorbonne, Paris. In 2010, China Newsweek named him the "most influential foreign figure of the year" in China. Sandel was the 2009 BBC Reith Lecturer, and his most recent book Justice is an international bestseller.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Urgent and necessary reading 9 Feb 2013
If I'm right in saying that true erudition lies in being able to make the complex both simple and thought-provoking, then Michael Sandel is on a short shortlist for the wisest man alive today.

The creep of market values to overlay or replace other ethical values is one of the most harmful aspects of the Western world today. Why are we in thrall to markets? Why are `profits', `efficiency' and `incentives' such central themes across so many organisations and so much social activity? And what do we lose as a result?

If you have read `Freakonomics' or books like it, then consider this your antidote. Please read it, then give it to a friend to read. We might just change the world. It's that good.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Money Can't Buy 27 April 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I read this with great enthusiasm after seeing Sandel on tv last year and listening to him on the radio recently exploring some contemporary issues with audiences: what I admired was his ability to take the audience through a series of steps to elucidate central moral concerns. Here he takes a steady look at the commodification of much in western culture and subjects it to a scrupulous moral analysis, in many respects very much a print version of his broadcast work. The reviewer who hints at disappointment that there is nothing new here has a valid point: I doubt there really is in terms of conclusions. But what I really admire and am engaged by with Sandel's method is that it is not polemic but takes the reader through the logical processes by which one can arrive at judgements.

Most of us will probably 'know what we think' about many of the topics covered here - from bribes/incentives to populations to live healthily, to the access of advertisers to educational spaces, and many more and many more pressing and central topics besides. But what Sandel does is unravel the threads of logic and underpinning value judgements that many of us leapfrog over in our rush to judgement. At the very least we know better why certain arguments are more valid than others and occasionally have our assumptions challenged, or at least brought out into the open.

Perhaps best of all, the book is another demonstration that philosophy is not some abstruse academic pastime but a very relevant everyday process: if all the book does is remind us that we need to have a thought out underpinning to our expressed attitudes, then that is a worthy goal in itself.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars LIGHTWEIGHT 30 Sep 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The topic that this book addresses could hardly be more important, and the author is Professor of Government at Harvard. There is every reason to have high expectations of the book, and indeed it is excellent in some ways, but it ought to have been a great deal better than it is.

I should also say that Professor Sandel is on my own side of the dialectical fence when it comes to taking a view on the legitimate role of markets, so when I criticise his handling of the question I do so not as an ideological opponent but as an ally and sympathiser. In particular one remark (p179) that deserves the status of poker-work motto is `making markets more efficient is no virtue in itself'. At various points Professor Sandel contrasts `purely economic' arguments, allegedly value-free and concerned only with economic self-interest, with what he calls `moral' objections to them. Broadly, I go along with his general outlook and many of the instances that he uses are fine by me, but he weakens our argument in two ways - first, I don't know what ivory tower we would have to visit to find value-free economic beliefs. The proponents of laissez-faire markets these days are nothing if not strident and hectoring. Secondly, Sandel's use of the term `moral' seems to me slack and hit-or-miss. There are two ways of applying the term. One categorises specific areas of human conduct, and the other is just a device for excluding alternatives, and it may have nothing to do with morality in the first sense. We could talk of a moral certainty, for example, by way of opposing it to a mathematical or actuarial certainty, and morality is not involved in this perfectly legitimate usage. Between the two there is a grey borderland, and I think Sandel should have been more careful of the instances he uses.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your Money Should Buy, 'What Money Can't Buy' 28 April 2012
By K. Petersen VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In this book Michael Sandel explores the belief that money can buy everything. He asks us to confront our acceptance, and also our revulsion, at the control that money and business interests have on our way of life.

Sandel takes the reader through a brief history of the insurance business, which began as a system to protect our expensive goods, allowing us to replace our dwelling, should the house burn down; or gain compensation should our ship sink, rather than come in. If you, like me, are ignorant enough to think that this is where the business is today, you are in for a rude surprise: old people are being paid to take out insurance policies, which are taken over by companies who pay the premiums, in the hope that the insured person dies quickly, giving them a decent profit. The banking system has even bought in to this concept and, along with sub prime mortgages, one can buy shares in the death industry.

Sandel also investigates the changing policies of the advertising industry. A few years ago advertisements would appear on television, in the press and occasional street posters. Nowadays, even in conservative Britain, adverts pop up in all sorts unlikely places and this book shows where we are likely to be in the future.

My football team already plays at the King Power Stadium, which had been known as the Walkers Stadium, until more money was offered for the naming rights. Apparently, a police car, in the metropolis, apprehends miscreants under the sponsorship of Harrods and many town centres have an over-sized television in their square, ostensibly to show major events but in reality, to put a string of banal advertisements in front of the general public.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read
A great microeconomics book. I liked how Sandel merged the disciplines of Economics and Philosophy together due to the ever increasing presence of markets in our world today. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Read Up
5.0 out of 5 stars It’s important to open the debates and ask questions about the...
In the U.S. Congress, some public can listen to the debate, but for the days you will have to wait your turn. Read more
Published 24 days ago by Denis Vukosav
2.0 out of 5 stars A replica of Freakonomics
Published 1 month ago by Krzysztof Nowak
3.0 out of 5 stars Unsatisfied
I really expected a bit more from this book. It actually didn't answer the question from its title. Still worth reading though.
Published 1 month ago by Anna Jozwiak
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, clearly argued
Great book, clearly argued. Michal Sandel's greatest talent has to be in making you think - most of his conclusions I tend to agree with, but even if you didn't I think you will... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mike
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear-eyed But Not Jaded
This is a clear, cogent argument - presented with lots of concrete examples and minimum jargon.
Sandel has a lightness of touch that is amusing and persuasive

This... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jose Spinks
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensational
Fascinating and immensely readable given the subject matter, which could easily have been rendered dry by less expert treatment. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Alice Adams
3.0 out of 5 stars More than One Idea
According to the critics, Michael Sandel is a genius philosopher. He may be that, but this book does not really make the earth move. Read more
Published 2 months ago by The Outsider
3.0 out of 5 stars Ethics Not Markets
I found reading Sandel's Justice a pleasure and hoped he had some insights to offer about markets. Sadly not. Read more
Published 3 months ago by M. Blackburn
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This well written, concise and highly informative book is hard to put down and reveals a great deal about where a society so driven by market forces is taking us all and why that... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Verity
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