What Money Can't Buy

What Money Can't Buy

The Moral Limits of Markets

Book - 2012
Average Rating:
Rate this:

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 lifeâe"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 bestseller 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 market-driven age, need to have: What is the proper role of markets in a democratic societyâe"and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets don't honor and that money can't buy?

Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780374203030
Branch Call Number: 174 SAN
Characteristics: viii, 244 pages ; 24 cm
Alternative Title: Moral limits of markets


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Jan 29, 2018

I rather enjoyed this book, though it was not challenging or especially insightful, but it was eye-opening (eg., ghoul pools, and invasive advertising); the aim of the author was to present questions and encourage moral thinking and discussion on how markets should be considered in relation to society. In that, it succeeds, indeed, there are probably more questions in this philosophy book than there are in most. And its urgent that peoples of most societies (the book is addressed to Americans) seriously discuss the issues he lays out and decide upon on the questions he poses - its not a mere academic debate for the philosophy seminarium. As for the topic written into the subtitle, much of the work of John Broome could be read and considered with much profit.

Sep 16, 2015

I love the way Michael J. Sandel thinks! I seem to share most of the values at the core of his philosophy. His book “Justice – What’s The Right Thing To Do?” was an excellent introduction to the realm of moral philosophy.

This book, “What Money Can’t Buy” was slightly less engaging but nevertheless informative and thought-provoking. He cites many examples in American life of areas that were previously unsullied by commercialism and markets but which have now been infused with market attitudes – and not for the better. In each case, he explains the economic, market reasons for accepting these changes and then explores the ways in which these changes diminish the area or good in question. In most cases, this revolves around arguments about fairness and about corruption of the meaning of the goods. The book essentially asks the questions “What kind of society do we want to live in?”, “What goods should not be for sale?”, “How does assigning market value to goods that should not be for sale diminish the quality of life and the coherence of our communities?”, “What social and democratic values do we surrender when everything is for sale?”

Many of the examples of commercialization cited in the book are shocking. Areas covered include paying to jump the queue, ticket scalping, financial incentives and their effects, fees and fines, paying to pollute or to kill endangered species, how markets crowd out morals and altruism, the corruption of insurance, naming rights, the rise of municipal marketing, and advertising in schools. The book is written about the United States and I can only hope that some of the more egregious examples have not yet arrived in Canada.

Sandel concludes by saying: “So the question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together. Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy?” Good question!

The book is quite well written and well organized. The excellent analysis is subtle and nuanced. In spite of this, the book was somehow not as engaging as it might have been. I had no difficulty reading a few pages, then putting the book down – this is a rarity for me and I can’t quite figure out why this was the case.

The subject matter is vitally important to determining the core values that should be the foundation of society. It should be read by anyone who sees nothing wrong in the increasing commercialization, omnipresence of advertising and the conversion of every sphere of life and society into a market. For those who are already troubled by these trends but have difficulty explaining why, the analysis provides an explanation.

3.5 stars for presentation; 5 stars for ideas and analysis.

Sep 05, 2014

When you're dealing with a subject that has deep moral and personal ramifications, such as how our societies and economies should be organized, it is helpful to have someone explaining the fundamentals. This is what Michael Sandel does here. A thought-provoking book.

Jul 11, 2014

I like mony :)

Sep 24, 2013

Very underwhelming. A qualitative look at the limits of markets and how their expansion affects morality. Unfortunately this book is at best a large essay and does not quantify any of the issues that it introduces. Neither does it truly offer any conclusions or recommendations. As the author clearly knows morality is not a static sense through time or the population. Very quick read if you are interested.

May 31, 2013

With the possible exceptions of Elizabeth Warren and Richard Parker, I have a major problem with everything coming out of that criminal factory called Harvard! This book deals with the tiny details, when all the author need have said was that the greatest entitlement program in history, the "right" to create money, which the overclass (the banksters) enjoy, both the overt act of money creation (via the Federal Reserve) and their shadow financial system ("shadow banking") affords them the greatest power in history - - the power to own and control almost everything!

Jul 15, 2012

Lots of creepy stories throughout the book. For example, the company claims it can't afford to give you a raise but it can afford to take out a life insurance policy on you without even telling you. Not only that when you die the company gets paid out because of all the time/money they spent 'training' you and how thats going to impact their bottom line.... Well worth the read....

Jun 04, 2012

An accessible, thought-provoking application of philosophy to aspects of our daily lives that we may accept uncritically. It's not a screed against capitalism, rather, it's a logically measured approach to questions about the role of values in markets.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

Jul 11, 2014

indigo_snake_32 thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 99 and 99


Add a Summary

SusanOP May 30, 2013

Michael Sandel puts forth the argument that there are many aspects of our lives where the free market does not belong. He argues that "efficient markets" are not virtues in themselves, and that as a society it is imperetive that we question whether are not introducting market values into an activity, a good or an institution will improve it or diminish it. The free-market it not value-neutral, or ethically neutral. We need to recognize that the commercialization of many good things (some examples he gives are sports, universities and schools, medicine, public parks) degrades and corrupts those good things.

It was a relief to have my feelings about commercialization and the virtue of the free market put into words. I felt that Sandel did not dig deeply enough into his thesis, however.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at HPL

To Top