The Commodification of Everything   /   Summer 2003   /    Articles

What Money Shouldn’t Buy

Michael J. Sandel

Detail from ”Death and the Miser.” Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1490).

My topic is the moral limits of markets: are there some goods that should not be bought and sold, and if so, why? The proliferation of markets in recent years makes this question difficult to avoid. Consider, for example, recent proposals to establish markets in organs for transplant, or the already flourishing market in human eggs and sperm, or the unseemly race among medical entrepreneurs to patent human genes and other life forms. And what should we think about the extension of markets into spheres of life once thought to lie beyond their reach, with the proliferation of for-profit schools, hospitals, and prisons? The rampant commodification, commercialization, and privatization of contemporary life gives us good reason to reconsider the moral bounds of markets: Are there some things that money should not buy? In order to explore this question, I would like to distinguish two objections to extending the reach of market valuation and exchange.11xThis essay draws upon Michael J. Sandel, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets,” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, vol. 21, ed. Grethe B. Peterson (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000).

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