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What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
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What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  9,283 ratings  ·  1,010 reviews
A renowned political philosopher rethinks the role that markets and money should play in our society

Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we put a price on human life to decide how much pollution to allow? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars, outsourcing
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 24th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Oct 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Sandel is worried about the lack of moral limits of markets and posits that the time has come to hold a debate, as a society, that would enable us to decide, again as a society, where ‘markets serve the public good and where they don’t belong’. This to address the precipitous decline in moral values and the ensuing corruption when having a market economy morphs into ‘being’ a market economy.

Objection. Since when, pray tell, have moral values been determined democratically in any society. What ho
Jan 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
I praise Michael Sandel for pillorying markets when they traffic in morally objectionable goods and services. But economists have admitted the amorality of markets. Markets do the best job of allocating scarcity but make no claim as to the worthiness of the good or service allocated to begin with. And so, yes, markets need limits, but this does not diminish the appropriateness of using a market based approach for morally neutral or beneficial goods and services.

Sandel spends too much of the boo
Tiffany Conner
Sep 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Not to brag or anything (or maybe just to brag a little), but I actually knew of Michael Sandel's scholarship way before he wrote Justice, a book I didn't even read, but which achieved international acclaim and thus gave Sandel that coveted status of Superstar Public Intellectual. My introduction to Sandel's work was Democracy's Discontent. I did read the excerpt of What Money Can't Buy in the The Atlantic and enjoyed it. But I don't know that Dr. Sandel needed an entire book to make his argumen ...more
Nov 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kat-sachbuch
In this short book Michael Sandel writes about the growing commodification of social life.
He raises the question if we should want a market economy of a market society and shows how market mechanisms take over parts of our lifes that definitely shouldn't be for sale.

The book contains a plethora of well described examples and clear explanations why it seems wrong to ignore moral aspects.

There are many detailed reviews available, therefore this review is short, because I could only repeat what was
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It is an easy reading book about the continuous progressive encroachment of free market mechanisms of putting a price on everything, into ethical values and into the common patrimony of society. The author is showing by examples how in the last decades in the global capitalist world, little by little, everything has become for buying or sale: surrogate mothers, human organs and blood, politicians, children, the right to pollute, honor, integrity, power and even the manipulation of collective con ...more
Son Tung
Dec 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
256 pages ? I feel like 500 pages.

This book has many many many examples of how Market Thinking creeps into our society. Human always use cost/benefit analysis for all kind of things, but often without comprehension of the big picture and consequences. There are many public goods and human endeavors should not be taken lightly and empathy is something not to be messed with. The often heard mantra “Money cannot solve everything” rings true and clear when the author examines what was and is happen
Mike Edwards
Sandel here gets all the big things right--and a shockingly large number of the little things wrong.

His main thesis is absolutely correct: the introduction of money and markets can fundamentally change the character or nature of a particular transaction. Sandel is correct that society often does not fully appreciate this basic fact--which causes us to use monetary incentives in ways that can be more detrimental than beneficial.

Most of the time, but not all of the time. Sandel states that he's ju
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sandel's modest proposal is that there are some things in the world that cannot (by definition) be bought and some things that no one should be able to be sell and buy for other reasons. He does a pretty good job at it, it's easy to follow and full of examples. It's not written as a text book but for the everyday reader. My only gripe with this book is that the premise seems so obvious to me, that there wasn't much new to be learnt. However, I found some of his arguments useful. Personally I'm m ...more
Aug 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing

Five stars for the topic and bringing it to the attention of the public. The topic of how far reaching we as a society want markets to be is a highly important one and it is had much too little, actually not at all I would say. Markets have become the myths of our time, they never fail and are always right and because of that they should have a broader reach. That is the typical argument but is that really the case? Do we want as a society be fully market driven?
Where the book could have been
Rahul Jain
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a beautiful little book.
As a child I used to wonder why does only life insurance companies used to have agents specifically, and why there was always a hint of distance and discomfort from those people.

Although the book is US specific in certain topics, it remains fluid to read, covering a broad range of topics and poses interesting question on our notion of what we think is sacrosanct in life.

The chapter on gifts is quite relieving - I always found giving cash very distasteful - it's good
Ahmed Hussein Shaheen
"Something similar has been happening throughout our society. At a time of rising
inequality, the marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of
modest means lead increasingly separate lives. We live and work and shop and play in
different places. Our children go to different schools. You might call it the skyboxification of
American life. It’s not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.
Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that ci
Robert Wechsler
Oct 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This is one of the most important books that has come out in the last few years. It is about how the norms that accompany a free market approach are inappropriate to many spheres of life, such as public service, access to government officials, and the distribution of government resources. I focus on government, because I write about government ethics. But Sandel looks at other spheres of life, as well.

The ideas Sandel expresses here are anathema to libertarians, who consistently apply a free mar
Jul 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
The problem with this book is, when you put it down, you walk around looking at the world saying, "Why the hell is THAT considered a marketable part of life?!" "And THAT! What the heck is going on here? It all just snuck up on us... and we lost." Seriously, this is a very interesting read that is a real eye-opener. The skyboxification of America, separating EVERYTHING via the lens of "what would somebody pay for THIS," and what can money NOT buy -- rather, SHOULD not be able to buy -- are substa ...more
Himanshu Karmacharya
Nov 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Worth a read. Sandel not only asks philosophical questions about the commercialization and monetization of our lifestyle and society but also answers a lot of them. He gives a fine perspective about how the markets are invading our life and corrupting it and how we are blind to it.
Kate Lawrence
Aug 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: social-issues
Anyone who is dismayed to see the unprecedented reach of advertising, corporate naming rights of public venues, and monetary payments for behavior formerly expected without incentives--like getting good grades or standing in line--will be glad to see an examination of how far markets should be allowed to penetrate our society. And those who haven't noticed these things can use the book to catch up.
Sandel, a Harvard professor of government, doesn't strive to make a particular case, however. In th
Yevgeniy Brikman
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An important read for everyone.

The key question in this book: what should and shouldn't be for sale? The book goes through many examples, some genuinely shocking, of how market dynamics are gradually expanding into more and more of our lives, and other than a few exceptions (e.g., we've created laws against buying and selling people—i.e., slavery), there seems to be no end in sight. But should there be? Should we draw a line somewhere? What are the moral implications when everything is for sale
Carson Cooper
Sep 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Good book. Very eye opening. Everyone in pamplin should read. Marketing can be problematic. Maybe I should switch my major senior year. Hmm. Anywho I read this in 4 days go me. I’m that bitch
Ramnath Iyer
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Asking tough questions of us all….

Most of the precious things in life are not measured by money. And most of us would balk at the idea. But in this highly thought-provoking book, Michael Sandel shows how that is exactly what has been happening to a lot of things in civil society, and points out what is wrong with this slow, almost insidious, inexorable phenomenon.
Is it moral to pay $150,000 to shoot an endangered species? Or to pay money to a line standing company that will hold your place in t
Jul 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
2/8/20 —I just reread this and it still is wonderful and topical. It is frequently noted, very positively, in a number of recent books and economics, markets, and current societal crises. The author is a philosopher teaching in Harvard’s law school. Having reread the book, I am now strongly motivated to read the author’s book on Justice. The aggressive focus on examining the moral/ethical dimensions of given issues, as opposed to leaving all up to individuals in the market, unreflectively, is th ...more
Jan 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
My own initial worries were that an Ivy League professor would write an argument that requires some sort of familiarity with the vagaries of economic theory. But Sandel doesn't. He explains both the econ and the moral theory that represent the book’s central conflict/discussion in incredibly accessible terms, a prose style that seems to me entirely suitable for the target audience. There's very little disciplinary name-dropping or theoretical digression, and the presentation calls to mind an int ...more
Katrina Stevenson
Apr 02, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
While Sandel makes some interesting points and relates his hypothesis to contemporary news very well, the book itself felt much too repetitive. This is a topic that surely could have been a 15-20 page paper. The content itself did not fill up an entire book, and this was clear in the vast number of examples Sandel insisted on using. Small points of actual matter were interspersed with repetitive and often only tangentially-related ideas, which made the book tedious overall.
Mark Crawford
Aug 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Robert Fulford's year-end musing in The National Post, "2012, the year when money somehow became unpopular" contains a predictably jaundiced view of two recent scholarly works about contemporary capitalism, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Harvard Political Theorist Michael J. Sandel, and How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life, by Robert and Edward Skidelsky. (Since I have not read the latter work, I shall not comment upon it.)

But I have read Sandel's book and have found
Michael Sandel is a storyteller. His stories are amusing ones like those in Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, but Sandel’s stories urge us to look deeper: to look meaning rather than just personal gain. Perhaps not everything should be for sale. Sandel’s stories make us wonder what our responsibilities are in the marketplace economists have made for us. He prods us to ask ourselves if the world we have is the one we want. Judging from the reaction of the pop ...more
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Money itself is an allusion. And this book pokes at the growing assumption that everything these days has a price. Sandel argues effectively the futility of assigning a value to tricky moral issues and the corrupting nature of money on the things a value has been slapped on.

Here's the deal. The market mindset shouldn't be applied to all things in our life. Why do we like putting a value on things? Well, it's neat and tidy. It absolves people of true responsibility for their actions. The downside
Nov 08, 2012 rated it liked it
I haven't yet read Justice, but after reading this I certainly will.

This book helped me spotlight an uncomfortable internal tug-of-war that's been going on inside my head for most of my career -where is the line? As a marketer for most of my career, I have aggressively pursued every possible angle to get closer and closer to my target audience and push them to a desired action. As a startup manager in the day, nothing was beyond redesign and everything had a business model. But there was a nagg
This book is a mere catalog of commercialism in our society.
Since our society and culture in the United States is commercialism,
the book is merely additional noise. Merely a pile of undigested research by an academic.

If academia requires publish or perish, this belongs in the perish category. The blurb by George Will (the cipher with a bow tie) should have warned me off.

There is no point of view expressed here. The author's quiet even handed calm approach is perhaps intended as "objectivity". Ac
What Money Can't Buy is a great book on a rather unpopular topic. Where it seems like most people are content to simply put their faith in the movements of markets that they don't understand, Sandel is willing and able to point out the inherent limitations of markets in determining how we value what is for sale. Armed with a great number of examples from a variety of financial/economic areas, the author dissects all of them based on two primary objections to putting anything up for sale and lett ...more
Liam Semple
May 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy, economics
I loved Sandel's book, Justice, and recommend it to everyone. This book is the opposite - boring, and recommended to no one.

Justice was written a bit dryly, but compensated for it by exploring many different fascinating ethical dilemmas and quickly cycling through most of the major ethical schools of thought. What Money Can't Buy, conversely, very quickly feels like it's spinning its tires. By the one-third point of this short book, I was both extremely bored and felt as though I'd understood a
John Campbell
Feb 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Sandel has a gift for detecting the moral components of our daily lives, and communicating them accessibly. In this book, he shows with clarity that market thinking has the effect of crowding out moral considerations, and that we as a society need to think carefully about when and where markets are appropriate. In doing so he attacks a central tenet of modern economics, the idea that markets do not change goods, but I think he do so convincingly. The examples he pulls from real life to illustrat ...more
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Michael J. Sandel (b. 1953) is an American political philosopher wholives in Brookline, Massachusetts. He is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1980. He is best known for the Harvard course 'Justice', which is available to view online, and for his critique of John Rawls' A Theory of Justice in his first book, Liberalism and the L ...more

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“A growing body of work in social psychology offers a possible explanation for this commercialization effect. These studies highlight the difference between intrinsic motivations (such as moral conviction or interest in the task at hand) and external ones (such as money or other tangible rewards). When people are engaged in an activity they consider intrinsically worthwhile, offering them money may weaken their motivation by depreciating or "crowding out" their intrinsic interest or commitment.” 8 likes
“As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the state is not far from its fall.” 4 likes
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