Work and Dignity   /   Fall 2012   /    Book Forum


Michael J. Sandel

I am grateful to Juliet Schor, Eva Illouz, and Eugene McCarraher for their thoughtful engagement with my book. Professor Schor worries more about inequality than marketization; she suggests that the concentration of buying power in the hands of the privileged leads them to seek new things to monetize, thus propelling the tendency toward the commodification of everything. I think this is part of the story, but not the whole of it. The past three decades have been a time of rising inequality, but also a time when market reasoning and economic thinking have deepened their hold on social and political life. Each of these tendencies reinforces the other.

In What Money Can’t Buy, my primary goal is to provide a philosophical framework for thinking through the question of where markets serve the public good, and where they don’t belong. for example: Should schools pay students for good grades, or to read books, as a number of schools have begun to do, in hopes of improving academic achievement? What about the charity that tries to prevent drug-addicted women from having babies by paying such women $300 to undergo sterilization or long-term birth control? Would there be anything wrong with an elite private university deciding to auction off 10 percent of the seats in the freshman class to the highest bidder? Should we set a price on citizenship (say, $100,000) and sell the right to immigrate to the United States?

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