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WHAT MONEY CAN'T BUY by Michael J. Sandel Kirkus Star


The Moral Limits of Markets

by Michael J. Sandel

Pub Date: April 24th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-374-20303-0
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Sandel (Government/Harvard Univ.; Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, 2010, etc.) sounds the alarm that the belief in a market economy diminishes moral thought.

Taken to its extreme, a market economy dictates that any inanimate object, any animal, any human being can be bought and sold. That thinking justified human slavery in the United States until the end of the Civil War, but Sandel's examples are far subtler than slavery. Should any society find it desirable to place a price on polluting the environment? On first-rate health care? On admission to the best colleges? When so much is available for sale, writes the author, there are two inevitable negative consequences: inequality and corruption. Sandel devotes the first chapter to "Jumping the Queue." He explains the conundrums that arise when first-class airline passengers are allowed to skip the long lines at security, when single-passenger cars purchase the right to use express lanes designed for fuel-efficient multiple-passenger vehicles, when theatergoers pay somebody to stand in line overnight to score tickets for the best seats and when long waits for medical treatment at hospitals are circumvented by buying the services of concierge doctors, who guarantee quick access. Although not primarily a quantitative researcher, Sandel tests the boundaries of a market economy in his Harvard seminar on Ethics, Economics and the Law. The reactions of his students provide him with new examples of moral (or immoral or amoral) reasoning about everyday decision-making in an economy where cash payments rule. Sandel notes that the reality of a market economy embeds a vital question: How do members of the citizenry choose the values by which they will conduct their daily living? Are there certain commodities that markets should not honor?

An exquisitely reasoned, skillfully written treatise on big issues of everyday life.