<i>What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets</i> – New Book by Noted Scholar

Posted by Sona Makker May 2, 2012
Biopolitical Times

What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, the new book by leading philosopher and Harvard professor Michael Sandel, explores the consequences of a society in which everything and anything has a price tag.

The book’s central theme is the rise of "market triumphalism" the increasing detachment of moral values from our profit-driven market system. Sandel writes:

Economists often assume that markets are inert, that they do not affect the goods being exchanged. But this is untrue. Markets leave their mark. Sometimes, market values crowd out nonmarket values worth caring about.
He lays out some key examples, as recently discussed in The Atlantic, to drive this point home, including surrogacy and pharmaceutical testing:
For Sale:
  • The services of an Indian surrogate mother: $8,000. Western couples seeking surrogates increasingly outsource the job to India, and the price is less than one-third the going rate in the United States.
  • Serve as a human guinea pig in a drug-safety trial for a pharmaceutical company: $7,500. The pay can be higher or lower, depending on the invasiveness of the procedure used to test the drug’s effect and the discomfort involved.

This new book is in conversation with Sandel's previous book, The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering, which discusses the need for bringing moral values and a "common good" framework to bear on newly emerging technologies. His lecture at a CGS-sponsored event in 2007 in Berkeley, California can be viewed here.

In What Money Can't Buy, Sandel further emphasizes the urgent need for public debate about how we value "goods" like health and nature, and how we decide where markets serve the public good, and where they simply don't belong.

At a time when we see ads for human eggs and hear about the "huge market opportunity" for prenatal genetic tests, the issues Sandel raises are incredibly important to our thinking about how we can use genetic and reproductive technologies wisely.

More information on  Michael Sandel and his book tour.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: