Miss City Discovers: Summary of "What Money Can't Buy"

Monday, February 25, 2013

Summary of "What Money Can't Buy"

The author, Sandel, begins by introducing more out-of-the-ordinary instances of buying and selling. For example, he lists that you can upgrade your prison cell for $90 a night or have the right to shoot an endangered black rhino for $250,000. He mentions these statistics in the beginning to make it clear that there are instances of buying and selling that the public may not be aware of. The statistics are startling and are there to have the public ask should we allow that? Does that really make sense? Is it justified in this case, or that case? Where should we draw the line? With each statistic, a new question about the moral limits of markets is intended to rise. Over the last 30 years, market and market values have been dominating American life. Beginning with Margaret Thatcher and then projected after the Cold War, markets have been thought to do no wrong. But since the crash, we can see there may be an invasion of morality considering the markets.
Over the last 3 decades, we have lived in a time where almost everything can be bought and sold. After the Cold War, market and market thinking changed from not only being able to buy tangible goods, but also intangible commodities that may not be ethical. Sandel poses the question, isn’t this change in market behavior worth asking questions about? Ever since the 1980s when Reagan announced that “markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom”, an era of “market triumphalism” began. We may not have intended this market take-over to occur, but it did have causes like the important historical events mentioned above.
After the market crash in 2008, there was uncertainty about whether or not the market could allocate risk competently. The author then goes into both sides of the argument over what caused this destabilization within the seemingly “safe” market. One reason that the market collapsed, the author states, was greed on Wall Street. He then says that greed is only a partial influence, however. The biggest factor was the idea that the reach of markets now stretched into ranges of life where markets never were before.   The market governs the world we live in either way; we never will completely ignore market values. 
Sandel argues that what the people of the United States should be arguing about is what should and should not be in the market place. The two reasons that Americans should be worried about too much being up for sale are inequality and corruption. Inequality is a reason in the sense that, in a world where everything is for sale, the rich have it easier than the poor. The more money can buy, ‘the more wealth- or lack of it- matters’. For the second reason, putting a “worth” on almost everything can corrupt the good. Sandel uses the example of paying a child to read. If you pay a kid to read, you may be teaching them that reading is a chore rather than a pleasurable pastime. To be able to sell your vote would demean the responsibility of a person to their country.
The biggest question Sandel poses is, “Do we want a market economy or a market society?” A debate about the moral limits within a market is absolutely necessary, being his final point. “The great missing debate in contemporary politics is about the role and reach of markets.” Sandel is taking a position of awareness for a healthier public life.  He wants to alert the public to take a position. People are making businesses out of things that maybe shouldn’t be businesses. Markets have been so promoted that markets are conflicting with other values. Explicitly, Sandel says that he doesn’t imagine we are all going to agree in every case, but the public needs to have the argument.  


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