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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Urgent and necessary reading
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...
Published 17 months ago by B. Waite

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars LIGHTWEIGHT
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...
Published 9 months ago by DAVID BRYSON


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too Late To Turn The Tide ?, 12 Jun 2013
By 
The Wolf (uk) - See all my reviews
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The World needs idealists and Michael Sandel steps up to the mark
admirably with his critique of market-driven economics and moral
erosion. 'What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits Of Markets' isn't
so much a fix-it book as a map of possibilities. Mr Sandel knows his
territory well and in sober, measured language (shouting from a soap
box really isn't his style) he points out what we're in danger of losing
in turbulent times where everything has its price regardless of human cost.

Paying schoolkids for reading books? Yes why not? Persuading drug-addicted
mothers to accept cash in lieu of sterilization? Sure thing. Companies profiting
from life insurance policies taken out on employees without their families
knowledge? Absolutely fine. It's very mucky stuff. Mr Sandel doesn't offer
solutions but it's clear that he wants us to examine our consciences and
life choices. His book could be a catalyst, a force for good and a call
for change but how many people would need to read it, absorb it and behave
differently for the ethically vacuous tide he describes to begin to turn?

Greed and altruism will, unfortunately, forever be fundamentally irreconcilable.

Nonetheless, it is better that such an erudite book should exist than not.

Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clear and pertinent insight. But, poss stating the obvious & preaching to the converted?, 8 Jun 2013
By 
Sebastian Palmer "sebuteo" (Cambridge, England) - See all my reviews
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I like the idea behind this book a lot - what he calls the 'marketization of everything' is indeed a cause for concern - and I remember hearing and enjoying Sandel's Reith lectures on BBC Radio 4, in 2009, on the theme of 'a new citizenship', in which, if memory serves, he mentioned some of the ideas discussed in this book.

However, this is a rather thin book in terms of concepts and argument (I read it in one evening), whilst considered in terms of lists and repetition it is, as several other reviewers have noted, rather fat. When Lyell or Darwin do this, in their books on geology or evolution, one feels the cumulative weight of their evidence was entirely necessary. By comparison, Sandel's examples seem limited and almost entirely anecdotal. And if, as some reviewers here suggest (and I suspect they may be right) this book is preaching to the converted, do we need so many examples?

His opening question, the two principles of 'coercion' (relating to fairness and choice in an unequal world) and 'corruption' (the corrosive effect that supposedly neutral markets can have in valuing goods), along with the closing statement (actually just a reiteration of the opening questions: 'Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?'), supported by a few examples, could've made the same case in just a fraction of the space.

Reviewer Sphex has said elsewhere that 'We all know of public figures who scoff at the idea of progress and make a good living bemoaning the current state of the world'. My guess is (the Sphex quote comes from a review of Pinker's Better Angels book) he's referring to John Gray. Whilst one hopes and imagines that Sandel does at least believe we might be able to do something in the face of 'market triumphalism' he offers no ideas whatsoever here: this is really just a long (and, at 20, expensive) litany of woes. Whilst Sandel might not be blowing a dirge on the trumpet of pessimism in quite the way Gray does, he does appear to be trading in gloom.

Although I'm in more or less complete agreement with him that rampant deregulated capitalism running amok in every walk of life is doing immense amounts of harm, I found the parade of morally repellent practices he adduced as evidence, well... frankly, depressing. And on the evidence given here current trends look resolutely headed towards ever more of life beng colonised by commerce. Certainly a debate on these issues is needed. But, as Sandel quite correctly points out, neither debate nor engagement on such issues are in a healthy way.

Sandel is American, which is evident not only in the spelling of the quotes I've used, but also most of his substantive focus, and I feel this book would have benefitted from casting its net wider. I would like to have given the book more stars, but I don't think it will change many minds, and amongst its readership the litany of gloom might even prove de-motivational. It didn't really tell me anything new, other than a few specific details of how awful modern capitalism can be, and how frighteningly amoral or immoral its apologists can be, adding a few gory details to the minutiae of horror that its ever spreading tentacles of doom represent.

As whistle-blowing, or acting the role of the boy who shouts 'the emperor's butt naked!', the points Sandel makes are a necessary element of a debate that needs to be happening. Catch-phrase economists passing off their 'expertise' as morally neutral, and the oxymoronic concepts that suggest economics is at one and the same time both scientific and yet also clairvoyant are myths more deserving of deconstruction than, for example, Gray's pet hate, progress. But as well as the critique, the negative, we need positive suggestions, and there are none to be found here.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant insight into 21st Century society, 28 May 2013
By 
Mr. Stephen Redman (York England) - See all my reviews
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Michael Sandel writes superbly, immediately engaging the reader with his deep thoughts and stimulates the thinking process.

This book challenges our acceptance of market economics in our lives and asks whether or not we should allow sponsorship and incentivisation of everything , everywhere and anytime.

From schools to sports events, from public buildings to beaches, Sandel challenges us to ask whether or not we should allow our environment to be full of advertising and whether or not we should allow female drug addicts to be sponsored to be sterilised!

On the plus sides, this book is very readable and will make you think about the morality of economics. On the minus side the 2 pages of conclusion don't really recommend the reader to take a definite position on the matter - only to be aware of it. All the way through you surmise that Sandel has come to a conclusion about the need for placing morality back into the fabric of our society, but he never quite gets there. Having said that, this book will go down as one the best I have read in 2013 and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone out there who really cares about people and our culture.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Michael Sandel - Filthy Lucre and its limitiations, 2 Sep 2012
By 
Red on Black - See all my reviews
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Thomas Carlyle's famous characterization of economics as "the dismal science" has led in more recent years to a fundamental questioning of whether its a science at all. The character of Leo McGarry in the brilliant "West Wing" once stated that "economists were put on the earth to make astrologers look good," and despite a few notable exceptions the profession not only missed the burgeoning problems leading to the current crisis but didn't really recognise them when it all broke. It led Paul Krugman in a famous article in the New York Times to question "How did economist get it so wrong". Not least the masters of universe Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke who as late as 2005 were dismissing the idea that house prices and the massive bubble they created posed any serious threat. Michael J. Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University, he also gave a stimulating set of Reith lectures in 2009 and more recently was interviewed on Radio 4s Today programme on his excellent and very readable new book "What money cant buy". He was also viciously attacked by a range of some of the best and brightest current economists (the term is used loosely) for suggesting after the Kyoto conference that US demands for signing up to climate change protocols on the condition they include a trading scheme allowing countries to buy and sell the right to pollute were morally wrong. Sandel argued persuasively against this and observed that letting countries buy the right to pollute was like letting people pay to litter. For those who cannot come to face with the fact that financial markets do fall far short of perfection this was heretical stuff and Sandel felt their wrath in letters and columns.

Times have changed and it would be hoped that those whose views were so mesmerised by markets and so far wrong would be eating a large slice of humble pie. Yet Sandal's book remains one of the few contributions that questions what extent and role should markets play and crucially isn't their something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale. As Sandel ironically observes over the past 5 years "the spectacular failure of financial markets did little to dampen the faith in markets generally. In fact the financial crisis discredited government more than banks". This disillusionment with politics Sandel sees as a massive problem. At a time when we need reasoned public debate we are lumbered with a "rancorous politics.. whose problem is not too much moral argument but too little". Sandel is fundamentally concerned with inequality and he examines the growing phenomenon of being financially able to jump the queue whether through "Lexus lanes' on US highways, prisoners paying for "cell upgrades", "gifts" to prestigious universities to admit your child and many more. As a theorist of justice, Sandell is certainly not a left wing socialist or arguing that all markets are bad. What he is concerned about is the loss of a moral compass and in his showstopper that "The most fateful change that unfolded in the last 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." In the last analysis it raises that fundamental question for human beings on how we want to live together. The gnawing gulf between rich and poor increases and we witness "wide screen TV riots". Are there things in terms of a common life that money shouldn't buy?

In a country with a NHS it is often puzzling for UK citizens to look at the row over the limited reforms of Barack Obama on health which has led to the accusation in some parts of the Republican right that he is a communist! But the future of the NHS in England at least is subject to a great debate on potential marketization and many trusts are crushed by the burdens of PFI debts. Inevitably this leads to the big justice questions that Sandel raised in his Reith lectures on tax policy, the contribution of the rich and income equalisation. The point about "What money cant buy" however is to change the terms of the debate from one of market infatuation to another which clearly sees market limitation as a moral objective. It is not a particularly earthshaking synopsis and undoubtedly Marxist theorists which berate its lack of radicalism and historical sweep. But is does make you think and starts to change the terms of the debate. Sandell should be thanked for this and for pointing out that Bruce Springsteen at least gets it when he forgoes $4m by charging $95 for a ticket to his homecoming New Jersey concerts when the Stones charged $450 dollars for the same venue. Shame on you Mick and Keith!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Have we moved from a Market Economy to a Market Society?, 5 Aug 2012
By 
Sussman "Sussman" (London CA) - See all my reviews
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I came to this book without any foreknowledge on the issues raised or of the author's previous work. The brief description on Amazon's web site grabbed my interest. The author of this book is Michael Sandel, he is a professor of politics at Harvard; his first worldwide hit was with his last book, Justice, the subject of a famous lecture course at Harvard. His new book, What Money Can't Buy, is a study of "the moral limits of markets".

Call me nave and uninformed, but as delved into the book I began to find some rather disturbing facts, I never realised that organizations such as Walmart had taken out hundreds of thousands of insurance policies on employees, where they were the beneficiary, so every time one of these employees' died, Walmart enjoyed a bonus. This type of policy was better known in the media as dead peasants insurance. These policies are forms of what the insurance industry calls Stoli, or "stranger originated life insurance" - in other words, an insurance policy taken out on your life by someone else, not on your behalf but on theirs.

Another type of insurance that was initially very popular with investors was the creation and evolution of `viaticals', and quote from Wiki `The early victims of AIDS in the U.S. were largely gay men, many of whom were not particularly old. They often had no wives or children (the traditional beneficiaries under a life insurance policy), but they had life insurance policies through employment or as a result of investments. The beneficiaries under the policies were often their parents who did not need the money. Viatical settlements offered a way to extract value from the policy while the policy owner was still alive' to pay for care and medical treatment. In the early years, of the disease being identified, life expectancy for people with full blown AIDS was very low, so investors did very well. These are just some the examples where Markets have evolved since the 1980s.

Sandel work is both focused and paced; there is this no ideological bias or political tilt in his writing. Rather
Sandel writes in his book, "Markets - and market values - have come to govern out lives as never before." Do we in society wish to see markets, where everything is up for sale? Or should there be areas, where there are certain moral and community goods/services, where markets forces do not apply and where money should not be able to buy. For me it was a thought proving read and somewhat of an eye opener, where we need to take interest in the ways markets are focused and developed.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing, dull, 23 Jun 2012
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Having found Sandel's book "Justice" educational and thought provoking, I was disappointed by this one. I had hoped for an insightful discussion of arguments for and against the creeping commodification of modern life. Instead there is a long, and at times repetitive and dull, list of examples of areas where markets have encroached. Most of these are not surprising for anyone who lives in a modern democracy.

He describes the vague feelings of unease that many of us do have, but does little to explain them other than citing unfairness, and the damage to and replacement of non-market values. He offers no suggestions as to how a society or an individual could raise cash in other ways, or live without the need for that extra cash.

Selling kidneys can seem repugnant, but if a man sells his kidney so that he can pay for life saving heart surgery for his daughter, it is hard to morally condemn him. Better to condemn (and try to change) the world where poverty can leave a man with no other options.

What about health care? Some countries - Norway, Holland, and Canada I think - provide universal free health care and do not allow a parallel private health system. Disparities in income may well affect one's chance of becoming ill, but at least won't affect the standard of treatment one receives. Is this an area that should be free of markets? Sandel does not comment.

I grew up in Australia and went to a state primary school, and then a private secondary school. That school was run by a board of trustees and was not a profit making business. I was surprised to find in Kenya that private schools were businesses. it seemed outrageous that someone could profit from a basic right to education. Now I am used to it, and pay up, because unfortunately I know I will only get what I pay for.

There are no examples from the developing world. In countries like Kenya, social services and free education and health care are rudimentary. There is a huge gap between poor and rich and this inequality is exacerbated by the fact that there are high standard private, and thus market driven, schools and hospitals. In fact there is little incentive for local councils or the government to provide infrastructure and services, because the private sector provides a parallel service in almost every area - water, sanitation, security, power, telephones, education - and many politicians are on the boards of these companies. Roads are a stumbling block, no transit lanes to sell, so overcoming traffic is an area businessmen must be eyeing. Helicopters and gyrocopter taxis perhaps?

I'll keep looking for a more insightful book. I might try Diana Coyle's 'The Economics of Enough'.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Missed opportunity, no real theory to back up the examples, 1 May 2012
By 
A. I. Mackenzie "alimack" (Glasgow, Scotland.) - See all my reviews
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Firstly, this book contains a lot of useful of examples where the market has crowded out behavioural norms. Examples such as selling places in queue for congressional hearings, selling expensive boxes at baseball games and selling ad space in schools and on police vehicles. The examples are well chosen and we've definitely degraded civic society by allowing this.

However for a moral philosopher he doesn't really explain the philosophy behind it, essentially he's critiquing Utilitarianism by saying that markets are corrupting and that there are other ways of valuing things than by putting a price on them.

He also mentions extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation where paying someone for good grades, say, erodes the basic human desire to do well for its own sake. He's almost certainly right, but I've heard the argument before from Joel on Software: And on Diverse & Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest etc..: And on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters ... or Ill-Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity and so it's not new to me.

So the book boils down to a long list of market intrusions into civic society, which gets dull quite quickly. So a pleasant read but needs a bit of stiffening with proper philosophical ideas. The whole area seems to be crying out for an Aristotelian analysis, much like the last book I read The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion which covers much the same ground.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear and thought-provoking, 31 Aug 2012
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Michael Sandel argues in this book that markets (financial markets, labour markets) are not morally neutral. In making this case, he goes against the standard modern wisdom. The result is an original and sometimes disturbing book.

Sandel subtitles the book "The moral limits of markets", and that's a useful summary of what the book is about. This isn't a red-blooded polemic; it's more detached and philosophical than that. However, Sandel uses some well-chosen examples to illustrate the principle that thinking of everything in the world in terms of goods, trade and markets debases our values. He shows, in a quietly powerful fashion, how applying economic ideas in areas where they don't belong has corrupted society.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A replica of Freakonomics, 14 July 2014
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3.0 out of 5 stars Unsatisfied, 1 July 2014
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I really expected a bit more from this book. It actually didn't answer the question from its title. Still worth reading though.
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