Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

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John F
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Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by John F » Thu May 31, 2012 4:07 am

I'm reading Michael Sandel's new book, "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets," which is the basis of Nicholas Kristof's piece. Sandel is the author of "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?" and teacher of the Harvard course on which it's based, which has been videotaped and can be watched at http://www.justiceharvard.org/watch/. Sandel doesn't preach morals, he teaches how to recognize moral issues and think them through.


Markets and Morals
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: May 30, 2012 28 Comments

Does it bother you that an online casino paid a Utah woman, Kari Smith, who needed money for her son’s education, $10,000 to tattoo its Web site on her forehead? Or that Project Prevention, a charity, pays women with drug or alcohol addictions $300 cash to get sterilized or undertake long-term contraception? Some 4,100 women have accepted this offer.

Michael Sandel, the Harvard political theorist, cites those examples in “What Money Can’t Buy,” his important and thoughtful new book. He argues that in recent years we have been slipping without much reflection into relying upon markets in ways that undermine the fairness of our society.

That’s one of the underlying battles this campaign year. Many Republicans, Mitt Romney included, have a deep faith in the ability of laissez-faire markets to create optimal solutions. There’s something to that faith because markets, indeed, tend to be efficient. Pollution taxes are widely accepted as often preferable to rigid regulations on pollutants. It may also make sense to sell advertising on the sides of public buses, perhaps even to sell naming rights to subway stations.

Still, how far do we want to go down this path?

• Is it right that prisoners in Santa Ana, Calif., can pay $90 per night for an upgrade to a cleaner, nicer jail cell?

• Should the United States really sell immigration visas? A $500,000 investment will buy foreigners the right to immigrate.

• Should Massachusetts have gone ahead with a proposal to sell naming rights to its state parks? The Boston Globe wondered in 2003 whether Walden Pond might become Wal-Mart Pond.

• Should strapped towns accept virtually free police cars that come laden with advertising on the sides? Such a deal was negotiated and then ultimately collapsed, but at least one town does sell advertising on its police cars.

“The marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives,” Sandel writes. “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.”

“Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?”

This issue goes to the heart of fairness in our country. There has been much discussion recently about economic inequality, but almost no conversation about the way the spread of markets nurtures a broader, systemic inequality.

We do, of course, place some boundaries on markets. I can’t buy the right to cut off your leg for my amusement. Americans can sell blood, but (perhaps mistakenly) we don’t allow markets for kidneys and other organs, even though that would probably save lives.

Wealthy people can, in effect, buy access to the president at a $40,000-a-plate dinner, but they can’t purchase a Medal of Freedom. A major political donor can sometimes buy an ambassadorship, but not to an important country.

Where to draw the lines limiting the role of markets isn’t clear to me, but I’m pretty sure that we’ve already gone too far. I’m offended when governments auction naming rights to public property or sell special access, even if only to fast lanes on a highway or better cells in a jail. It is one thing for Delta Air Lines to have first class and coach. It is quite another for government to offer first class and coach in the essential services that government provides.

Where would this stop? Do we let people pay to get premium police and fire protection? Do we pursue an idea raised by Judge Richard Posner to auction off the right to adopt children?

We already have tremendous inequality in our country: The richest 1 percent of Americans own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute. But we do still have a measure of equality before the law — equality in our basic dignity — and that should be priceless.

“Market fundamentalism,” to use the term popularized by George Soros, is gaining ground. It’s related to the glorification of wealth over the last couple of decades, to the celebration of opulence, and to the emergence of a new aristocracy. Market fundamentalists assume a measure of social Darwinism and accept that laissez-faire is always optimal.

That’s the dogma that helped lead to bank deregulation and the current economic mess. And anyone who honestly believes that low taxes and unfettered free markets are always best should consider moving to Pakistan’s tribal areas. They are a triumph of limited government, negligible taxes, no “burdensome regulation” and free markets for everything from drugs to AK-47s. If you’re infatuated with unfettered free markets, just visit Waziristan.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/31/opini ... orals.html
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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by John F » Thu May 31, 2012 4:56 am

What Money Can't Buy by Michael Sandel – review

Michael Sandel challenges the idea that markets are morally neutral

John Lanchester
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 17 May 2012 04.00 EDT

"Dead peasants insurance" is a term that sounds as if it comes straight out of Monty Python. If only that were true. Here's an example of what it means: in 1999, Michael Rice, a 48-year-old employee of the supermarket firm Walmart, collapsed while helping a customer carry a television to her car. He died a week later, and an insurance company paid out $300,000 for the loss of his life.

So far, a sad but not unusual story; the twist was in the identity of the people who benefited from the insurance. It wasn't Rice's family, who didn't get a penny, but Walmart. In a subsequent lawsuit, it turned out that Walmart had hundreds of thousands of such policies on employees, so every time one of them died, the huge corporation enjoyed a tiny windfall. And that's dead peasants insurance, or, as it is also known, "janitors insurance". They are forms of what the insurance industry calls Stoli, or "stranger originated life insurance" – in other words, an insurance policy taken out on your life by someone else, not on your behalf but on theirs.

Michael Sandel is a professor of politics at Harvard, and is one of the best known public intellectuals in America. He enjoyed a worldwide hit with his last book, Justice, the subject of a famous lecture course at Harvard, and gave the 2009 Reith lectures. His new book, What Money Can't Buy, is a study of "the moral limits of markets". For him, the story of dead peasants insurance is an example of how the encroachment of market values can change the character of an industry. Sandel shows how life insurance, which had its origins in the idea that we can mitigate the economic impact of death on survivors and dependents – an idea which was always controversial, and indeed was illegal across much of Europe – was gradually corrupted into a form of betting against other people's lives.

Another example of this process was the development of "viaticals". These were insurance policies that had been taken out earlier in their lives by people who were dying of Aids. The life insurance policies of these dying patients were valuable – so a market developed in which these policies were bought by investors, who would give the Aids sufferer a lump sum and would pay for their care during the terminal illness. Then, when the patient died, the policy would pay out: kerching! The catch for investors was that the longer the patient lived, the less money they would make. "There have been some phenomenal returns," said the president of one company that specialised in viaticals, "but there have also been some horror stories where people live longer."

This trajectory, for Sandel, is paradigmatic. We can all instinctively understand the idea of life insurance; most of us will feel an instinctive repugnance at the thought of the viatical industry or dead peasants insurance. As market thinking penetrated the life insurance industry, a moral line was crossed, and the application of market ideas was taken too far.

That shows what has happened with the increasing ubiquity of market ideas. "Over the past three decades," Sandel writes, "markets – and market values – have come to govern out lives as never before." Sandel is no socialist and isn't against markets per se. He is forthright about the positive impact markets can have in their correct sphere. "No other mechanism for organising the production and distribution of goods had proved as successful for generating affluence and prosperity." His focus, perhaps unexpectedly, isn't on the 2008 crash and the great recession that followed. Instead, Sandel is interested in what he sees as a deeper and more consequential loss of our collective moral compass. "The most fateful change that unfolded in the last three decades was not an increase in greed. It was the expansion of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life where they don't belong."

This might make it sound as if What Money Can't Buy is mainly a work of polemic. It's not: Sandel isn't that kind of philosopher. He is clear about what he thinks, and the direction of his argument is clear too, but he progresses patiently, through the accumulation of examples from a number of fields. Too patiently, perhaps, for some readers. Anyone who is already in agreement with the ideas Sandel is advancing – a fairly numerous group of his readers, I'd have thought – may well want a more sweeping, angrier book, one that is more heated about the morally debased landscape brought to us by the ubiquity of market thinking.

I had moments when I wanted What Money Can't Buy to be more charged, to use more of the language of right and wrong and less of the bloodless vocabulary of "norms". But Sandel, I came to realise, is doing something very specific in this book. It's a work of political philosophy more than it is a polemic: he wants to make it unambiguously clear that markets have a moral impact on the goods that are traded in them.

To understand the importance of his purpose, you first have to grasp the full extent of the triumph achieved by market thinking in economics, and the extent to which that thinking has spread to other domains. This school sees economics as a discipline that has nothing to do with morality, and is instead the study of incentives, considered in an ethical vacuum. Sandel's book is, in its calm way, an all-out assault on that idea, and on the influential doctrine that the economic approach to "utility maximisation" explains all human behaviour.

Sandel is methodical about assembling evidence to refute the idea that markets are amoral and have no moral impact. Paying people to queue, for example: Sandel studies this practice in areas such as US congressional hearings and free outdoor theatre performances. In both cases, companies have come into being to allow the well-off to hire a homeless person to go and hold a place in the queue until the rich person turns up just in time for the main event. This is an example of something which is supposed to be a communal good being marketised and turned into cash. This has two consequences that often recur and are stressed by Sandel: one is that the process is unfair, and the other is that it is corrupting or degrading to the thing being marketised.

He sees this dual phenomenon, of unfairness and the degradation of values, at work in many areas: from the market in sports memorabilia to carbon trading to on-call doctor services to Chinese population control policy to the growth of executive boxes at sports grounds – "skyboxification", as he calls it. That leads to one of his most direct statements of political engagement: "Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of ordinary life."

There's one example in particular that comes close to summing up the entire argument of What Money Can't Buy. It concerns an Israeli daycare centre, which responded to a problem with parents turning up late to collect their children by introducing fines. The result? Late pick-ups increased. Parents turned up late, paid the fine, and thought no more of it; the fine had turned into a fee.

The fear of disapproval and of doing the wrong thing was based on non-monetary values, and was a stronger force than mere cash. The daycare centre went back to the old system, but parents kept turning up late, because the introduction of market values had killed the old ideas of collective responsibility. Once the old "norm" of turning up on time had been marketised, it was impossible to change back.

This is such a vivid illustration of Sandel's thinking that it is almost a parable. Let's hope that What Money Can't Buy, by being so patient and so accumulative in its argument and its examples, marks a permanent shift in these debates. Markets are not morally neutral. Let's all be clear about that. As Sandel concludes: "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?"

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/ma ... del-review
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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by jbuck919 » Thu May 31, 2012 7:18 am

A major political donor can sometimes buy an ambassadorship, but not to an important country.
Where did he get that idea? It's been happening all the time for ages. The point is that cushy ambassadorships are sinecures anyway so not much is lost by giving them out as rewards for donors. Not a wonderful situation, perhaps, but not a serious moral dilemma either.

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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by John F » Thu May 31, 2012 8:13 am

You may not think the sale of ambassadorships is a serious moral issue, but it's a moral issue nonetheless, and I think it's rather serious. Our ambassadors in London, Paris, and Berlin are government officials with responsibility for conducting our relations with these our most important allies. Is it morally right that they should be chosen not for their aptitude and experience in diplomacy but for the size of their campaign contributions? Did it serve America well that Joseph Kennedy was our ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1940, when his conduct of that office led to his forced resignation, merely because he contributed and raised a lot of money for Franklin Roosevelt's presidential campaign? But that's merely a practical objection after the fact, not a moral one which should have prevented such appointments in the first place. The fact that this happens is neither here nor there; what matters is whether it should happen.

This is the whole point of courses like Michael Sandel's "Justice" and his lectures, articles, and books such as "What Money Can't Buy" - to help students and the rest of us recognize moral issues when they arise, and to be capable of intelligent moral reasoning as opposed to mere moralizing or, on the other hand, moral evasion. (Which is a quick and dirty summation of the stances of the American right and left.) It's not enough to proclaim what we believe to be right and wrong; if we haven't actually thought it through, then our opinion has no weight, or at most the weight of one vote.
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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by John F » Fri Jun 01, 2012 3:09 am

This Column Is Not Sponsored by Anyone
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: May 12, 2012 378 Comments

Poring through Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel’s new book, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets,” I found myself over and over again turning pages and saying, “I had no idea.”

I had no idea that in the year 2000, as Sandel notes, “a Russian rocket emblazoned with a giant Pizza Hut logo carried advertising into outer space,” or that in 2001, the British novelist Fay Weldon wrote a book commissioned by the jewelry company Bulgari and that, in exchange for payment, “the author agreed to mention Bulgari jewelry in the novel at least a dozen times.” I knew that stadiums are now named for corporations, but had no idea that now “even sliding into home is a corporate-sponsored event,” writes Sandel. “New York Life Insurance Company has a deal with 10 Major League Baseball teams that triggers a promotional plug every time a player slides safely into base. When the umpire calls the runner safe at home plate, a corporate logo appears on the television screen, and the play-by-play announcer must say, ‘Safe at home. Safe and secure. New York Life.’ ”

And while I knew that retired baseball players sell their autographs for $15 a pop, I had no idea that Pete Rose, who was banished from baseball for life for betting, has a Web site that, Sandel writes, “sells memorabilia related to his banishment. For $299, plus shipping and handling, you can buy a baseball autographed by Rose and inscribed with an apology: ‘I’m sorry I bet on baseball.’ For $500, Rose will send you an autographed copy of the document banishing him from the game.”

I had no idea that in 2001 an elementary school in New Jersey became America’s first public school “to sell naming rights to a corporate sponsor,” Sandel writes. “In exchange for a $100,000 donation from a local supermarket, it renamed its gym ‘ShopRite of Brooklawn Center.’ ... A high school in Newburyport, Mass., offered naming rights to the principal’s office for $10,000. ... By 2011, seven states had approved advertising on the sides of school buses.”

Seen in isolation, these commercial encroachments seem innocuous enough. But Sandel sees them as signs of a bad trend: “Over the last three decades,” he states, “we have drifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society. A market economy is a tool — a valuable and effective tool — for organizing productive activity. But a ‘market society’ is a place where everything is up for sale. It is a way of life where market values govern every sphere of life.”

Why worry about this trend? Because, Sandel argues, market values are crowding out civic practices. When public schools are plastered with commercial advertising, they teach students to be consumers rather than citizens. When we outsource war to private military contractors, and when we have separate, shorter lines for airport security for those who can afford them, the result is that the affluent and those of modest means live increasingly separate lives, and the class-mixing institutions and public spaces that forge a sense of common experience and shared citizenship get eroded.

This reach of markets into every aspect of life was partly a result of the end of the cold war, he argues, when America’s victory was interpreted as a victory for unfettered markets, thus propelling the notion that markets are the primary instruments for achieving the public good. It was also the result of Americans wanting more public services than they were willing to pay taxes for, thus inviting corporations to fill in the gap with school gyms brought to you by ShopRite.

Sandel is now a renowned professor at Harvard, but we first became friends when we grew up together in Minneapolis in the 1960s. Both our fathers took us to the 1965 World Series, when the Dodgers beat the Twins in seven games. In 1965, the best tickets in Metropolitan Stadium cost $3; bleachers were $1.50. Sandel’s third-deck seat to the World Series cost $8. Today, alas, not only are most stadiums named for companies, but the wealthy now sit in skyboxes — even at college games — that cost tens of thousands of dollars a season, and hoi polloi sit out in the rain.

Throughout our society, we are losing the places and institutions that used to bring people together from different walks of life. Sandel calls this the “skyboxification of American life,” and it is troubling. Unless the rich and poor encounter one another in everyday life, it is hard to think of ourselves as engaged in a common project. At a time when to fix our society we need to do big, hard things together, the marketization of public life becomes one more thing pulling us apart. “The great missing debate in contemporary politics,” Sandel writes, “is about the role and reach of markets.” We should be asking where markets serve the public good, and where they don’t belong, he argues. And we should be asking how to rebuild class-mixing institutions.

“Democracy does not require perfect equality,” he concludes, “but it does require that citizens share in a common life. ... For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/opini ... nyone.html
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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by BWV 1080 » Fri Jun 01, 2012 8:30 am

so who gets to decide what sort of consensual transactions adults can engage in?

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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by John F » Fri Jun 01, 2012 9:43 am

Each of us decides, within the limits of the law, or in some cases lawlessly. That's not the point. It's about how we decide, and whether we submit to the amoral mechanism of the marketplace in which everything and everyone has its price. As Michael Sandel says, "Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone but increasingly governs the whole of life. It is time to ask whether we want to live this way... To decide what money should - and should not - be able to buy, we have to decide what values should govern the various domains of social and civic life. How to think this through is the subject of this book."
Michael Sandel wrote:When we decide that certain goods may be bought and sold, we decide, at least implicitly, that it is appropriate to treat them as commodities, as instruments of profit and use. But not all goods are properly valued in this way. The most obvious example is human beings... We don't allow children to be bought and sold in the market. Even if buyers did not mistreat the children they purchased, a market in children would express and promote the wrong way of valuing them. Children are not properly regarded as consumer goods but as beings worthy of love and care...

Some of the good things in life are corrupted or degraded if turned into commodities. So to decide where the market belongs, and where it should be kept at a distance, we have to decide how to value the goods in question - health, education, family life, nature, art, civic duties, and so on. These are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones. To resolve them, we have to debate, case by case, the moral meaning of these goods and the proper way of valuing them.
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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by BWV 1080 » Fri Jun 01, 2012 9:50 am

John F wrote:Each of us decides, within the limits of the law, or in some cases lawlessly. That's not the point. It's about how we decide, and whether we submit to the amoral mechanism of the marketplace in which everything and everyone has its price. As Michael Sandel says, "Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone but increasingly governs the whole of life. It is time to ask whether we want to live this way... To decide what money should - and should not - be able to buy, we have to decide what values should govern the various domains of social and civic life. How to think this through is the subject of this book."
Michael Sandel wrote:When we decide that certain goods may be bought and sold, we decide, at least implicitly, that it is appropriate to treat them as commodities, as instruments of profit and use. But not all goods are properly valued in this way. The most obvious example is human beings... We don't allow children to be bought and sold in the market. Even if buyers did not mistreat the children they purchased, a market in children would express and promote the wrong way of valuing them. Children are not properly regarded as consumer goods but as beings worthy of love and care...

Some of the good things in life are corrupted or degraded if turned into commodities. So to decide where the market belongs, and where it should be kept at a distance, we have to decide how to value the goods in question - health, education, family life, nature, art, civic duties, and so on. These are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones. To resolve them, we have to debate, case by case, the moral meaning of these goods and the proper way of valuing them.
<yawn>

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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by John F » Fri Jun 01, 2012 10:33 am

BWV1040 wrote:so who gets to decide what sort of consensual transactions adults can engage in?
How would you decide your own question?
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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by BWV 1080 » Fri Jun 01, 2012 11:54 am

John F wrote:
BWV1040 wrote:so who gets to decide what sort of consensual transactions adults can engage in?
How would you decide your own question?
The same answer I would give for bath salts, supersize cokes or whatever else the lower classes are doing that is worrying Manhattanites, just let adults make their own bad decisions.

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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by Dennis Spath » Fri Jun 01, 2012 2:36 pm

BWV 1080 wrote:
John F wrote:Each of us decides, within the limits of the law, or in some cases lawlessly. That's not the point. It's about how we decide, and whether we submit to the amoral mechanism of the marketplace in which everything and everyone has its price. As Michael Sandel says, "Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone but increasingly governs the whole of life. It is time to ask whether we want to live this way... To decide what money should - and should not - be able to buy, we have to decide what values should govern the various domains of social and civic life. How to think this through is the subject of this book."
Michael Sandel wrote:When we decide that certain goods may be bought and sold, we decide, at least implicitly, that it is appropriate to treat them as commodities, as instruments of profit and use. But not all goods are properly valued in this way. The most obvious example is human beings... We don't allow children to be bought and sold in the market. Even if buyers did not mistreat the children they purchased, a market in children would express and promote the wrong way of valuing them. Children are not properly regarded as consumer goods but as beings worthy of love and care...

Some of the good things in life are corrupted or degraded if turned into commodities. So to decide where the market belongs, and where it should be kept at a distance, we have to decide how to value the goods in question - health, education, family life, nature, art, civic duties, and so on. These are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones. To resolve them, we have to debate, case by case, the moral meaning of these goods and the proper way of valuing them.
<yawn>
Thank you for bringing these commentaries about Sandel's book to the boards attention John. I saw Sandel's presentation on C-Span's "Book Notes" but have yet to read it. This has prompted me to check him out at our local library.
It's good to be back among friends from the past.

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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by John F » Sat Jun 02, 2012 3:23 am

BWV 1080 wrote:
John F wrote:
BWV1040 wrote:so who gets to decide what sort of consensual transactions adults can engage in?
How would you decide your own question?
The same answer I would give for bath salts, supersize cokes or whatever else the lower classes are doing that is worrying Manhattanites, just let adults make their own bad decisions.
Which they will do without our permission. But Sandel's purpose, and my point, is to provide a basis for thinking adults who care about right and wrong to use their minds to make better decisions - better in the sense of ethical and moral. Is there no room for ethical concerns in your world view? Or is it nothing more than laissez-faire, money rules all?
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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by BWV 1080 » Sun Jun 03, 2012 7:05 pm

John F wrote: Is there no room for ethical concerns in your world view? Or is it nothing more than laissez-faire, money rules all?
Image

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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by John F » Mon Jun 04, 2012 12:41 am

Who or what is the straw man, according to you?

If moral issues and moral philosophy bore you, so be it. Apparently they do.
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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by BWV 1080 » Mon Jun 04, 2012 9:31 am

judging from the article and reviews on the Internet, the book seems a lightweight, anecdote-driven work that does not appear to address what I would think are the serious issues around the subject - who cares whether some lady has a casino name tatooed on her, or some company is stupid enough to pay for naming rights on some park? Its for the same people who think society's biggest problems are super-size soft drinks.

you can excuse a Harvard moral philosopher for being ignorant of economics and arrogant enough to nonetheless make sweeping indictments against it, but what about missing some of the real moral issues like the confluence of corporate prison ownership, police & prison guard unions and the ties to our record incarceration rates? or our for-profit military system? he does not seem to identify these as an issue of market and morals

instead we have a guy that apparently thinks life insurance is a vulgar corruption of morals

A real economist takes the book to task here:
However, there are examples in this book of the expansion of markets in ways that many people, especially economists, would mostly regard as beneficial, but the author argues are degrading. Life insurance is one. Sandel describes it as a "wager on death". He shares, it seems, the opposition of religious authorities to life insurance before it became increasingly widespread from the mid-19th century.

There are certainly some commercial excesses in the life insurance market. These include so-called "dead peasants insurance", whereby corporations take out policies on the life of their employees, originally without their consent; and the investment index of "viatical" insurance policies, whereby the investor buys at a discount the insurance policies of people who are dying and trades them. Yet to put normal life insurance policies in the same category, even though they may create a theoretical incentive to murder, seems extreme.

Sandel is particularly opposed to the idea, attributed to economics, that all human relations are market relations. His opposition to market relations stems not from an argument about fairness (that rich people can afford more), or about blackmail (poor people are effectively forced to make unpalatable choices because they need the money). Instead, his argument is that introducing market choices into domains where civic values ought to prevail has a degrading and corrosive effect.

The fact that a market might lead to outcomes that improve welfare is irrelevant to the over-riding importance of civic virtue, he argues. Thus a global scheme for a market in carbon dioxide is morally unacceptable, even if it reduces the level of emissions, because it does damage "to two norms: it entrenches an instrumental attitude toward nature; and it undermines the spirit of shared sacrifice that may be necessary to create a global environmental ethic."

I would rather see an effective scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but then I'm an economist. Economics is firmly grounded in utilitarian ethics, which can conflict with Sandel'smoral principle of virtue for its own sake. So at some point he and an economist are bound to part ways in making ethical judgments.

However, he thinks economists are more ideological than is the case (for the most part). For example, the book cites a well-known example of the use of a financial incentive proving counter-productive: a nursery that introduced a fine for parents who picked up their child late found that it increased lateness. Similarly, offering pupils payments to improve their grades does not always have the desired result.

A jobbing economist is not philosophically challenged by evidence that a financial incentive does not work, however. She will try to redesign the scheme with incentives that do work. The field of economics known as market design offers examples of market incentives whose outcomes are both effective and (I think) moral. A kidney-matching market created by economists in New England in 2004 has dramatically increased the number of kidney transplants, a result that surely outweighs any counter-argument against the commodification of body parts.

Economics does not deny the existence of limits to markets, or what are known as "repugnant" markets. On the contrary, market design tries to identify which reasons can account for the, often instinctive, moral repugnance in a specific case, and work around it. The good professor's insistence on a domain of civic values is certainly one principle for ruling out or limiting markets, and this explains why justice is supposed to be beyond purchase, and votes too, and why states insist on providing education for their citizens.

However, the generally accepted boundaries on markets vary, and the tide can flow both ways. There used to be a large market in humans, now banned in international law. The US prohibited the alcohol market in the 1920s. Short-selling of shares has sometimes been banned, sometimes not.

What Money Can't Buy will tap into a widespread unease about having to limit government and accept a larger private domain in this age of austerity; and about crass commercialisation when unemployment and inequality are too high. But it does not offer a clear guide to which markets are repugnant, and why.

We might agree that the new markets in financial indices of agricultural commodity prices, created by Goldman Sachs and others, are intolerable. For me, the reason is the utilitarian one that they are making very poor people go hungry.

But is it really morally repugnant for educational buildings to be named after rich donors? Sandel objects to a school naming its donated gym after ShopRite. Yet he, the Anne T and Robert M Bass Professor of Government, researches in Harvard's Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, named by a grieving but rich mother after a young Harvard student who died on the Titanic. Is the passage of time enough to disinfect the transaction?

He ends the book with a question: "Are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy?" This is rhetorical. Of course the answer is, yes. But how do we know what they are?
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-enter ... 11785.html

Cosima___J
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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by Cosima___J » Mon Jun 04, 2012 11:22 am

You no doubt know that old saying "there's nothing new under the sun". I imagine that the same type of situations that the author is so exercised about occured back in the days of cave dwellers. Neanderthals probably engaged in things that "money shouldn't buy". I guess I just can't get too worried about it. In any case, what would you do to change things???? Write a couple of million new laws to ban everything that might offend you?????

John F
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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by John F » Mon Jun 04, 2012 12:30 pm

Cosima___J wrote:You no doubt know that old saying "there's nothing new under the sun". I imagine that the same type of situations that the author is so exercised about occured back in the days of cave dwellers. Neanderthals probably engaged in things that "money shouldn't buy". I guess I just can't get too worried about it. In any case, what would you do to change things???? Write a couple of million new laws to ban everything that might offend you?????
If you don't care about ethics, and believe that everything literally has its price and are OK with that, then obviously Michael Sandel has nothing to say to you. But do you really believe there's nothing that money shouldn't buy? How about a human slave, such as were legally bought and sold at auction before the Civil War? If you've no problem with that, then so be it. But if you believe that commercial trafficking in human beings against their will is morally wrong, and therefore there's at least one thing that money shouldn't buy - on moral grounds alone, whatever the law may be - then at least there's some common ground for discussion.

The law is one thing, moral conscience is another. Sometimes the laws embody a people's moral conscience, sometimes they seek to repress it. Likewise religion; likewise professional codes of conduct. On the issue of human slavery, our constitution has done both. Moral reasoning isn't about writing laws to impose or prevent a particular kind of conduct, but about understanding the ethical or unethical nature of one's own conduct, and perhaps behaving better as a result. You aren't against that, are you?
John Francis

Cosima___J
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Re: Markets and morals: what money shouldn't buy

Post by Cosima___J » Mon Jun 04, 2012 1:43 pm

Oh come on John. There is wide acceptance in today's world that morality forbids the buying and selling of human beings. (However, from what I read, there is the buying and selling of women who come to this country to find a better life and end up being a commodity in the sex market.)

"But for everything else, there's Master Card" or was it American Express?

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