What Money Can’t Buy (Book Review)

What Money Can’t Buy; The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael Sandel is the second masterpiece by the renowned Harvard professor. In a world driven by capitalism, he urges us to reflect on the morality of money. He asks what we can or cannot buy with money, and where we have to draw the line.

Nowadays we can pay for someone to stand in line for us. We can pay extra to have a doctor stand ready for us within minutes instead of months. And we can pay extra to sit in the sky-box at the next game of our favourite teams. With money, we can get a competitive advantage over others, but is this morally justifiable?

Sandel argues that money has had a negative effect on many social interactions. Were we once all on the same level when going to a baseball game, now the bankers and lawyers sit in their sky-boxes and the blue collar worker sits in the rain down below. One other example is that of a Springsteen concert. Sandel argues that they can easily charge much more for the (always sold out) concert. But the philosophy of Springsteen is to have the concerts available for everyone, and not only the people who can afford it.

Markets have also infiltrated other aspects of our normal lives. Incentives for reading books have been monetized. But by giving kids the reward of money, their incentive will become extrinsic, and lose its intrinsic value. Further on in the book, Sandel argues how markets crowd out morals, how markets work in life and death, and naming rights. All of these topics make you think hard about the difference between practicality, capitalism and morality.

The book does an excellent job of giving you the tools to ponder the examples. It lets you think about the morality of choices and how you think people should act. Sandel does in no way give his own opinion on the topics discussed and allows you yourself to judge (like he does in his previous book, Justice). Anyone interested in the morals of markets, or just morals in everyday life should read the book.


The Book: What Money Can’t Buy; The Moral Limits of Markets – Michael Sandel – ISBN-10: 0374533652 | ISBN-13: 978-0374533656


More on What Money Can’t Buy:

https://floriswolswijk.com/justice/ – Michael Sandel’s book on Justice Review

http://www.justiceharvard.org/about/about-what-money-cant-buy/ – Site of the book

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvDpYHyBlgc – Michael Sandel on What Money Can’t Buy

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBdfcR-8hEY – The legendary course on Justice (taped in 2005)

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/17/what-money-cant-buy-michael-sandel-review – Review of What Money Can’t Buy

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/04/what-isnt-for-sale/308902/ – Michael Sandel in The Atlantic

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