27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Money Can't Buy
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...
Published 12 months ago by S. J. Williams
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing, dull
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...
Published 10 months ago by lou-lou
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5.0 out of 5 stars moral philosophy at its best,
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read,
4.0 out of 5 stars A readable book with a simple argument: the markets cannot provide all the answers,
-- Unfairness: markets do not just place a value on things but restrict people's ability to make use of them in line with their ability to pay (i.e. the rich have an unfair advantage).
-- Corruption: markets corrupt how we think about things in inappropriate ways. For example, it might encourage us to put a monetary value on blood, leading to a market in blood donation, which seems somehow inappropriate in some way.
He does not aim to clearly define what "corruption" might mean: the book concludes that this is a question beyond the markets themselves, meaning we should provide space for serious moral enquiry.
I find this argument engaging and quite convincing but I found that much of this book serves to obscure the argument, drowning it in narrative detail that is fascinating but not directly relevant. I would have appreciated a clearer structure for this reason.
4.0 out of 5 stars Books, Presumably, Ok...,
The book is divided into five chapters. The first, `Jumping the Queue', describes the prevalence with which those with wealth can buy the right to jump ahead of the queue, in everything from airports and amusement parks to doctors' waiting lists. Chapter two deals with incentive payments, including paying children for school grades, paying people to be healthy, and tradable pollution permits. The third chapter covers the economy of gifts and the importance of altruism. Chapter four focuses on life insurance and gambling on death. Finally, chapter five is called `Naming Rights', though in fact it extends somewhat further to widespread advertising and sponsorship.
Throughout, Sandel's argument is replete with examples and he neatly distinguishes between arguments that are not always separated in public debate, with the precision that you'd expect of a professional philosopher. If you oppose commercial surrogacy, for instance, is it because you believe that it exploits poor women, who will be forced into selling their `services'? Or is it because you feel the very idea of paying someone to bear children is inherently degrading?
Sandel's focus is on the latter objection to markets - that they (sometimes) distort or undermine other intrinsically valuable practices. Of course, there are many areas where market transactions are permissible, but they become problematic when they corrupt other values, such as altruism. While it's clear that Sandel thinks that market norms have already encroached too far into society, including in most of his examples, he draws no line in the sand. The official message of the book is simply that markets can have this corrupting effect and thus that we need a public debate over which things we (collectively) think ought to be subject to market norms and which not.
As a piece of popular, rather than academic, political philosophy I think this book achieves its aims well. Sandel writes accessibly and presents an argument not always clearly articulated in public discourse. Whether or not it sparks a wider debate over the appropriate limits of markets, only time will tell - though I wouldn't bet on it!
5.0 out of 5 stars What Money Can't Buy,
`An economy is just a group of people interacting with one another as they go about their lives.'
As a result, economics now considers the principles by which we make decisions, and one of the most important of these is incentives.
Sandel quotes research which shows the use of `incentivize/incentivise' in major newspapers from the 1980s to the present. In the 1980s there were only 48 mentions, rapidly increasing to an amazing 5885 mentions in 2010-11. By `incentivise' is usually meant the offer of money, though it will also include good and services which would otherwise have to be paid for.
The book is rich in examples of this practice, including paying pupils to read books, smokers to give up the habit, women addicted to drugs to stop conceiving. It works in the other direction too, for example, prisoners paying for better conditions, patients paying for `concierge' medical attention. And the main purpose of the book is to consider the many ways in which money has become a factor in human behaviour when, perhaps, it should not be. Hence its subtitle, `The Moral Limits of Markets'.
This is a bigger question than it seems since economists work on the premise that their subject does not involve morality. They assume that if a market for a given product or service exists then that market must have a social utility. They do not go on to consider whether that market is a good thing. Nor do they consider the situation of those who cannot enter the market at all through lack of money.
One example with a moral dimension is surely the trade in human organs, where organs (especially kidneys) are `harvested' from the poor and implanted in the rich. In China, to facilitate this market, there are organ brokers. The following example isn't in the book, but a broker contacted by the Guardian newspaper (28th May 2012) has been advertising his services under the strap-line, "Donate a kidney, buy the new iPad!" He was offering £2,500 for a kidney. The World health Organisation estimates that there are already in the region of 10,000 such sales every year.
So what are the moral dimensions which may be relevant in a given financial transaction? According to Sandel there are two. The first is fairness. Increasingly, transactions are being `monetised', which can be unfair on those who are short of money, allowing the better off to jump the queue, often literally. And the second is corruption. That is, involving money in a transaction which used to be money-free may corrupt it.
Sandel gives many examples throughout this book of how pervasive money has become in our society, and also where it introduces unfairness or corruption. Some of these cases are straightforward and others, as he is aware, more arguable. Nonetheless this book is clearly written and thought-provoking.
Sandel is not alone in considering such questions. Consider this short extract from chapter five of Andrea Camilleri's book, August Heat. The question is asked by Montalbano and answered by Fazio.
`And does he find people willing to sell him their daughters?'
`Chief, don't we live in a free-market economy, these days? And isn't the free market the sign of democracy, liberty and progress?'
4.0 out of 5 stars Morality and the market,
Sandel's book contains many examples grouped under five chapters: 'Jumping the queue' (e.g. paying to see a doctor faster, ticket touts, etc.), 'Incentives' (e.g. paying a drug addict to get sterilized, carbon trading, etc.), 'How Markets Crowd out Morals' which discusses things which are devalued by being subject to market forces, 'Markets in Life and Death' (e.g. the selling of strangers' life insurance policies, gambling on when people will die), and finally 'Naming Rights' which discusses the commercialization of everyday life, from sponsored baseball commentary where home runs become 'Bank One blasts', to adverts in schools.
Sandel's examples are fascinating and thought-provoking, forcing the reader to think through their distaste (or lack of it). Economists have traditionally argued that markets are morally neutral, whereas Sandel uses the idea of corruption and degradation to argue that this is not the case. He shows (with empirical evidence) that when certain things are subjected to the market, new societal norms are created which crowd out former, more moral, norms resulting in an overall loss in terms of human flourishing. Sandel acknowledges that people's values and conception of the good life vary, but his book is a plea to at least consider such values rather than regard them as economically irrelevant (the section on gift-giving and its economic inefficiency is especially good in this regard).
As other reviewers have noted Sandel does not offer many practical solutions as to how the encroachment of market values can be resisted, beyond saying that we should give more weight to considerations of morality and human flourishing when making economic decisions. A cynical part of me knows that his arguments will be irrelevant to those whose only interest is in maximising profit, or for those who are too poor or desperate not to accept unsavoury monetary incentives. Nevertheless this is a readable and lucid book, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting an alternative to the unfeeling but seemingly rational arguments of market-oriented agents.
5.0 out of 5 stars Written with great clarity,
It is pretty short and I would have preferred Sandel to go into greater detail.
It is a pretty even handed analysis and certainly a lot less biased and partial than most books on the subject - both pro and anti free markets.
At time sit maybe a little lightweight though because of the clarity of the prose I would rate it as a five star book.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hitting the screw on the head...,
Maslow said, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail." Quite why such an accomplished political philosopher as Sandel adopts a one-track approach in `What Money Can't Buy' and chooses to keep `hammering on' with an appeal to a vague sense of morals and ethics without an attempt to ground those considerations only he knows. More explanation of his understanding of the objections he raises to the commercialisation of immigration rights, penal accommodation, education, parenthood, environmental standards and attendance at congressional hearings and less reportage is required. He, of course, is right to highlight such practices and question the blurring of the market sphere and the public service sphere; and this is certainly a readable book. However, having set the scene he repeats the charge over and over as if he suspects that we will not believe him first time, or that people who do not care about one instance will care about another (and some might but I suspect in not enough numbers to satisfy Sandels' objective). Although he nails the symptoms, he does not screw in the underlying reasons for the cause, why these `market solutions' feel wrong. I get the impression of Sandel tut-tutting at each transgression and then walking on. We may want philosophers to be impartial observers who give no recommendation as to action, preferring their reflection to lead us to better behaviour, but my judgement is that those who really need to improve their conduct will not read this book, and even if they did it would not, because of the lack of explanation of what grounds morals, convince them.
Nevertheless, I find myself reflecting on the instances Sandel highlights; especially why it would be wrong for a police car to bear the name of a sponsor but less so if the local football club renamed the stadium. To send a police car sponsored by a bank to arrest a fraudulent director of that bank might cause irrational reasons for non-arrest to surface, might give journalists a comical scoop that deflected our attention from the reasons for arrest, might even remove the financial viability of the squad car if the event started a run on the bank; but the overriding reason for the moral unacceptability of such sponsorship has to rest in collective conceptions of the impartiality of public protection and the value of isonomy. However if, say, Portman Road was renamed `The China Post Soccer Ground' I would be annoyed but I think only for personal sentimental reasons, not for moral ones, and if part of the deal was the building of a stadium that had open corners I would welcome it because the value of sunlight on the pitch to return it to the best playing surface possible would be judged above the loss of a familiar name not only for instrumental reasons but also for some restoration of the value of pride in excellence. I can see that from a communitarian point of view the loss of a name that has been used for generations is inconvenient (although it may be just swapping the personal name of a Victorian financier for the group name of a modern corporation) but the unseating of a situational name is surely only misleading to those who do not have a longstanding connection to the club, the loyal following generally carries on referring to the stadium or stand by the old name for decades anyway.
Yes actually, a useful if not essential book on the ethical norms we should expect in some, if not all, marketplaces. We may not agree with some of Sandel's judgements but it does provide more than enough material to start the debate, just not enough theory to follow through to a deeper understanding.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beware: only read this if you don't mind challenging questions,
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Timely Reminder To Us That Money Can't Buy Everything,
It's immensely relevant to our current times and Sandel may well be looked back on as one of the cutting edge thinkers of these times, and one of a clutch whose thoughts eventually made a difference.
It's hard sometimes to believe that we've barely had thirty years of rampant, consumerist neoliberalism, where The Market is all dominant, not just in the economy, but now also in nearly all areas of society. In that way, Sandel's assertion early in the book strikes home the most powerfully: we are no longer subject to a market economy; we are now in fact, a fully blown market society.
In a place where, literally, nearly everything is for sale and market triumphalism tells us here at the end of history, the best possible societal system is now in place and There Is No Alternative, is there really any place for morals, and is there anything, when you analyse it carefully, that cannot be bought or put up for sale?
Of course there is, despite the bleating's of hardcore free-market economists who with their flawed models, have for three decades punched intellectually way above their weight, and shaped the West into the moribund- and now economically shattered- society it currently is. Sandel shows succinctly that in many areas of human activity, the incursion of market values and activity actually degrades the societal good it is supposed to be increasing the utility of and- often- actually in the end even devalues it.
Although we have been numbed to many areas of awareness and feeling in this consumerist society, we still nonetheless recognise areas where money cannot actually buy something, or enhance your life through its use. A simple example is, of course, friendship, which becomes immediately devalued [even degraded], when economics is involved in acquiring it. The application of justice, family relationships and our very core, moral world, are others.
It is amazing that not much more than thirty years ago, the simple awareness that there was more to life, relationships and community purpose than the mere accumulation of wealth was taken as a given, and only goes to show how we have been so successfully brainwashed by corporate interests over so short a time, to now have to think hard about the validity of such `un-economic' thoughts.
Of course a large part of this problem has been the movement of the discipline of economics out of the field of trying to understand how the economies of societies work, into the arena of not just trying to understand, but overtly influence the entire shape of societies, and Sandel successfully outlines this problem. And I emphasise the word `outline,' as much of this book is in fact a sketch rather than an in depth discussion of the topic.
It's none the worse for that though, and although this is not quite the trailblazing book some media reviewers are making it out to be- Sandel concentrates more on observation and examples to make a point, rather than offering any ideas on possible solutions- this is still a timely, superbly written book that is easily digestible and full of ideas that must be heard and, once again, understood by us all.
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What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Unabridged) by Michael J Sandel