Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we allow corporations to pay for the right to pollute the atmosphere? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars? Auctioning admission to elite universities? Selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay? In What Money Can’t Buy, Michael J. Sandel takes on one of the biggest ethical questions of our time: Is there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don’t belong? What are the moral limits of markets? 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. Is this where we want to be?
In his New York Times best seller Justice, Sandel showed himself to be a master at illuminating, with clarity and verve, the hard moral questions we confront in our everyday lives. Now, in What Money Can’t Buy, he provokes an essential discussion that we, in our marketdriven age, need to have: What is the proper role of markets in a democratic society—and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets don’t honor and that money can’t buy?
©2012 Michael J. Sandel (P)2012 Macmillan Audio
Well written and read by one of Harvard's most engaging professors, this book is a great introduction to ethical ideas and their application to everyday questions. Sandel is well known for his Harvard lecture series 'Justice' which is freely available on the web. He has a knack for using examples, both common and obscure, to illustrate ethical principles and decision-making processes that help learners better understand how ethical decisions can be reached.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it made me stop and think about ideas that had never occured to me in relation to commercialism, insurance, advertising and inequality.
It would have been nice for the book to have led up to a point of when and how to use, and not to use markets to in our economy
There was no overarching point it the series of anecdotes in the books
Voice was fine, content was the problem
The explanations where longer than needed to make the point
Heard the author on C-Span and was expecting a more insightful analysis of how and when to use markets. Instead, got a series of drawn out anecdotes mostly on fringe topics.
Super survey of all the different ways we monetize our lives. A section on how companies purchase life insurance on hundreds of thousands of employees was especially interesting, as was a discussion on the business of "naming rights."
I typically think of myself as a right winger on fiscal issues. Taxes and government should as small as possible etc. I am surprised therefore to find myself really liking this book. I read it because I was so impressed with his other book (justice) I felt I needed to follow it up. I'm glad I did. I'm still probably a right winger but my thinking now comes with some caveat and nuance.
The author teaches an extremely popular undergraduate ethics course at Harvard called "Justice" [the course is available for free download at iTunes University]. I've watched many of the Justice segments and enjoyed them, so I was very interested when I read a review of What Money Can't Buy in the NYTimes earlier this year.
Even if you lean toward [or embrace] free-market economics, Sandel's book will provide ample food for reflection. His basic argument is that the two decades leading up to the 2008 financial meltdown were an era of "market triumphalism" -- one in which markets and market values crept into spheres of life where they didn't belong. Sandel wants us to think about the role that markets and market values should play in society, and whether there are some things that money should not buy.
I found that I didn't agree with some of Sandel's views, but I nonetheless found them thoughtful and well reasoned. Sandel reads the book himself, and I found his narration perfectly matched the content. Although Sandel's topic is weighty, he manages to be low-key, engaging, and even humorous. He clearly has a point of view, but he's never didactic.
How much did I like the audiobook? I enjoyed it so much, that I later downloaded the Kindle version so I could spent more time thinking about the content. That's my equivalent of "two thumbs up."
This is a rather timely book. Professor Sandel does a great job of laying out the ethical, moral and economic arguments, but requires the reader, at least until the very end, to connect the dots and decide what is right. I really appreciate this because it allows one to draw one's own moral conclusions and do some of the work required to decide what is right and wrong about the way markets have shaped society. This has the potential to turn readers from passive head-nodders to active participants in change. One minor knit-pick: as an advertising person, I feel that calling into question the morality of certain kinds of adverting (casino tattoos on the forehead, turning one's home or car into a billboard) somewhat cheapens the arguments in this book. Advertising takes many forms and it's really easy (and a little lazy) to point to the more out-there forms of the trade and call it into question. Yes, it's morally wrong to prey on the economic situations of people that need to get tattoos or car wraps in order to feed their families, fund their drug habits or pay their mortgages. We all know this. The thing about advertising is, it's a self-policing business. If the general public feels that a specific form of advertising is repugnant, it goes away pretty quickly for the simple reason that a message in that media will be met with disdain instead of sales. That said, I found this book, as I have with other books by the author, completely engrossing, thought-provoking and stimulating.
Sandel is an master philosopher able to apply his thinking to actual ethical issues--a very rare skill for philosophers. This book is very well-reasoned and raised my awareness about a lot of moral issues I hadn't given much thought to before. He has some clear value preferences, but I don't think you need to share them to get a lot out of this book. There's no denying that I entered favorably inclined toward his conclusions, but he really sharpened my thinking on a lot of points where my reasoning had been weak. I suspect if you are strongly libertarian and don't share his value judgments, you'll disagree with his conclusions. Nevertheless, i think this book will help you better articulate on what key value judgments underlie your own policy preferences and why you hold them.
Note also that this book is FAR from anti-markets. It would be a mistake to dismiss it as another book by a Harvard professor trashing free-markets. He's not dealing AT ALL with standard economic policy issues (tax cuts, government regulation of business, etc.). He's really only dealing with ways that market-thinking has spilled beyond those realms into zone of life where we might not expect it too. To illustrate, I think Mitt Romney could well read this book and agree with almost all of it.
One advantage of the audio version is it is read by the author who is a very popular and distinguished Harvard professor, so it is as though you are in his class.
Makes you consider where we should draw the line of what should and should not be bought.
The author says repeatedly that we have had no public discourse about this issue and we should start a national dialogue about it, etc, but it is unclear what exactly that means. Should we start writing editorials, talk about it on TV news stations, or what? Where would the solution to this problem lie?
Thoughtful, nonpartisan, and beneficial.
Having both read the book and then listened to it afterward, listening to Sandel personally describe the issues in his own voice and tone was extremely disarming. He is genuinely concerned about these issues and seems to sincerely want the American public to live happy and meaningful lives. In short, he is both a great philosopher and a truly good man.
At one point he makes the point that going to professional sporting events were in the past an event where everyone, both the rich and the poor, the elites and common people would come together and cheer for their favorite team. They were joined by common excitement in the public square. But now, with the advent of "box seating" those with the means can pay extremely high prices to set themselves apart from everyone else.
Sandel articulates the intrusions of market values in public spaces and how that intrusion degrades our coherence as a society and our personal values. His analysis is spot on.
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