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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars always thought provoking not always persuasive, 13 Nov 2012
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This review is from: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Hardcover)
Money can't buy friendship or love, but it can buy an increasing number of things - including bought apologies in some cultures. Sandel is unhappy about this development - seems always to have been unhappy about this development - and this book tells us why. Essentially, the move of buying things for money into new areas can represent bribery of people not in a position to make a reasoned choice and can also devalue the goods bought and sold. (So charging for late collection from an Israeli nursery did not lead to more timely pickups, but had the reverse impact - as people thought they were just paying for an extra service and not turning up on time for moral reasons, to release the nursery staff).

The book covers in turn paying to jump queues (and secondary markets in ticketing of all kinds, including tickets for the Pope as well as Bruce Springsteen) and paying people to stand in line for you (for tickets to congressional hearings and the like), then incentives (not to procreate, not to pollute, to permit the killing of limited numbers of endangered rhinos or seals), then markets crowding out morals (bought apologies, late collections, the case against gifts - just exchange money, it's much more utilitarian - skyboxes to watch ballgames) , markets in life and death (betting on the lives of others, taking on their life insurance and so on), and finally 'naming rights' (charging for autographs, putting billboards on bodies or nature trails and so on).

Sandel's central thesis - that some of these issues are really about the good life for man, rather than utilitarian economics - is surely proven by the end of the book. (Though note Sandel has almost nothing to say about the good life as such...) And there's interesting anecdotal material on every page (as per the above summary) to keep you interested and alert as a reader. Sometimes, though, I find I am in fact a utilitarian - and that this seems the best route to the good life for humanity. I can't really see what's wrong with pollution permits as a public policy, for instance - of course it would be nice if everyone restrained their own behaviour, but if there's a more efficient way to achieve a good which is a good for the planet, not for the individual, then this is pretty clearly the way to go...But it's a merit of the book that it's always making you think....
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