What Money Can’t Buy

May 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

Michael Sandel, a very popular Harvard ethicist whose class on Justice has been broadcast on BBC and PBS,  is speaking at the Opera House tonight (thanks, National Writers Series).  If you have not read What Money Can’t Buy, I highly recommend it.  This month’s etcetera meeting involves issues surrounding economic justice in America; if you have a chance to read his book or hear him tonight, I’m sure Mr. Sandel will give us a lot to think and talk about on the 31st.

What follows is an excerpt from  an article in the Daily Beast about both Sandel and his latest book:

“It’s true that he cuts an unprepossessing figure: a slight, trim man who wears a suit and tie when he teaches. Yet he’s a quick and creative thinker—as president of his high-school class in California, he got then-governor Ronald Reagan to address the school by sending him a six-pound bag of jelly beans, Reagan’s favorite candy.

In a small irony, Sandel’s jelly-bean gesture is a form of incentive, one of the things he challenges in his new
book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. The book takes on what Sandel calls the “imperialism” of economic ideas. He thinks we’re in thrall to markets and use them to answer questions that markets aren’t meant to answer. “We are in the grip of a way of looking at the world and social life and even personal relations that is dominated by economic ways of thinking. That’s an impoverished way of looking at the world,” he says.

One would expect Wall Street to figure prominently in this book, but What Money Can’t Buy says almost nothing about it. Instead, he challenges all of us to look at how we’ve allowed markets to pervade our public life. He argues that the spread of market philosophy has created what he calls “a consumerist idea of freedom,” in which we think our highest freedom is what we consume. Our obsession with consumption limits our freedom to engage in a full civic life.”