Fascinating and immensely readable given the subject matter, which could easily have been rendered dry by less expert treatment. Sandel is a rare philosopher with a brilliant grip on markets. This is exactly what philosophy should be: interesting, relevant and impassioned.
I am a huge fan of Michael Sandel. His series on Justice show what an inspired and inspiring teacher his is. He clearly has great affection for his students and they for him. Video clips are also available of Sandel discussing and debating in other contexts.
This book, though, was a disappointment. In essence it is a long list of things that should not be for sale, but which are. His response to these issues is to use his binary approach e.g. 'there are two reasons why this is wrong', 'this causes two problems'. This is a linguistic tic that he uses both in lecturing and in writing. I have often tried to get to the bottom of why there are only two reasons, or two problems!
I got the impression that the writing of this book was rushed. It certainly would have benefited from a very thorough edit. As it stands, the book is often repetitive and sometimes inconsistent. Just one (not two!) examples will suffice - and I accept that it is not the most obvious one. In the book, Sandel has being writing about the crowing out effect. However, later in the book he writes of 'crowding out', in quotation marks, as indicated. It is as if he was introducing a new idea.
I found this book interesting for a very shallow reason. I enjoyed reading the odd things that could be bought. This either shows me up as a not particularly well rounded person or perhaps it is a reflection on the idea that the debate on these issues never goes very deep. On the other hand, Sandel's voice shines through the book, along with his wonderful, quirky sense of humour. It is, perhaps, rare that you can find yourself laughing out loud white reading a political philosophy book.
In the U.S. Congress, some public can listen to the debate, but for the days you will have to wait your turn. The solution to that is offered by the company through which you rent a person who would stand in line for you. If you're a lobbyist and you need to listen very important discussion time of some homeless will be helpful who would thereby earn his $ 50 Something innocuous like standing in queue, as the most experienced, is particularly worrying in China where you stand in line for days or you have to pay the priority. At the hospital.
The issue of standing in the queue is the subject of the first chapter of the book written by most famous Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel. After the hugely successful 'Justice' Sandel explores and discusses the moral limits of markets. In the introduction he is defending against possible sentence that the book criticizes market economy: "The difference of the market economy is the following - the market economy is a good tool to increase productivity, but market society is a way of life in which the market value pervades all aspects of human endeavor." The era of market triumphalism ended, and since then things have started in the wrong direction; from the beginning of the crisis the public, instead to banks and the stock exchange speculators, turned anger to the government, to the politicians.
Why the issue of standing in queue is worrying? Economists, however, say that standing in queues is inefficient waste of time, shows that the offer did not meet the demand as a basic rule of economics. Pay someone to stand in line for you will improve efficiency by making people put a price on their time. But is it moral to look at it in this way, dividing people into those who can afford it and the other ones?
Sandel proposes opening some moral issues through political and public debate: "The problem is not that there is too much moralizing in politics, but not enough. Too little the issues to which people care about are being discussed."
There are two main reasons for concern - the first is inequality because it is more difficult to be poor with every additional thing which can be bought. If the inequality would consist only in the fact some can buy expensive yachts, while others do not, the difference in income and total wealth would not have been as important as today. But actually everything is for sale, right?
Another reason for concern is corruption. The introduction of market choice in areas where civic values dominate have degrading and corrosive effects on society as a whole. We "pollute" the things that should be morally important. You can buy citizenship to live in America, pay a surrogate mother in India for $8,000 or hunt protected species of animals. If, however, you need to make money because the previous things you cannot afford, you can tattoo advertisement on your head for $10,000 or fight in a private unit in Afghanistan for $1,000 per day.
If such things are really important, and it is assumed that they are why is there an apparent lack of discourse? Sandel says the reason is very simple, economists do not think in such (moral) way. If there is someone who is willing to pay for a kidney, and someone who consciously and at own risk wants to sell, then the economist would only ask - how much?
This is just a part of living and sometimes shocking examples we are used to read in the previous Sandel works, and in this work they are not absent as well. The author methodically corroborates his thesis with simple data to get closer to the readers who are not necessarily interested in the field of economics or philosophy. Intelligently he shows why it's important to think about the moral limits of markets. The fact is that the market may lead to outcomes that improve the well-being is irrelevant where it dominates over certain civic values which are very important to each of us.
It is important to open the debates and ask questions about the problems which are changing the roots of our society. This book, written by a top political philosopher of our time, is a great start.