By Debra Satz

why some things should not be for sale
Part of the books by Debra Satz series:
Editions:Paperback: $ 19.95
ISBN: 9780199892617
Pages: 264
KindleHardcover: $ 87.00
ISBN: 9780195311594
Pages: 264

"What's wrong with markets in everything? Markets today are widely recognized as the most efficient way in general to organize production and distribution in a complex economy. And with the collapse of communism and rise of globalization, it's no surprise that markets and the political theories supporting them have seen a considerable resurgence. For many, markets are an all-purpose remedy for the deadening effects of bureaucracy and state control. But what about those markets we might label noxious-markets in addictive drugs, say, or in sex, weapons, child labor, or human organs? Such markets arouse widespread discomfort and often revulsion.

In Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale, philosopher Debra Satz takes a penetrating look at those commodity exchanges that strike most of us as problematic.

  • What considerations ought to guide the debates about such markets?
  • What is it about a market involving prostitution or the sale of kidneys that makes it morally objectionable?
  • How is a market in weapons or pollution different than a market in soybeans or automobiles?
  • Are laws and social policies banning the more noxious markets necessarily the best responses to them?

Satz contends that categories previously used by philosophers and economists are of limited utility in addressing such questions because they have assumed markets to be homogeneous. Accordingly, she offers a broader and more nuanced view of markets - one that goes beyond the usual discussions of efficiency and distributional equality - to show how markets shape our culture, foster or thwart human development, and create and support structures of power.

An accessibly written work that will engage not only philosophers but also political scientists, economists, legal scholars, and public policy experts, this book is a significant contribution to ongoing discussions about the place of markets in a democratic society."

Reviews:Ethan B. Kapstein on Carnegie Council wrote:

"Satz sets up her study as a discussion between economics and philosophy, between proponents of market efficiency on the one hand and those concerned with broader social purposes—such as promoting equality—on the other. Somehow she overlooks the now vast literature on the economics and sociology of institutions [...] which has as its objective an examination of the market as a site of social relations and political contention. [...] One other technique that some readers are likely to find objectionable is Satz's effort to score points on behalf of her argument through the use of extreme examples. [...] Despite any shortcomings of her argument, the emphasis that Satz places on the role that markets can play in promoting—or undermining—relations based on equality will further advance the debate about how norms influence market processes and outcomes. This is a significant, well-written, and cogently argued book that deserves a wide readership."

Karen Kachra on Metapsychology wrote:

"This work is intended primarily for a scholarly audience. Satz spends two chapters dealing with 'intramural issues,' as she puts it, in political philosophy and economics. Yet her writing is not overly technical, or bogged down with jargon. Anyone who is interested in the role and scope of markets in broader society will gain from Satz' investigation. [...] Extreme suffering or harm is a moral problem in any context. For too long modern economic theory has exempted market exchanges from moral and political analysis or, worse, presumed that trade tends inevitably to generate conditions of autonomy and equality. Satz's inquiry is valuable antidote. Deliberate, thought-provoking and admirably lucid."

Lecture by Debora Satz

No time for a 40 minutes lecture? Instead see this 10-minute book interview with Debrah Satz

Further discussion

Extensive discussion of the book and the topic more broadly by:


Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction

Part I

  • Chapter One: What Do Markets Do?

Part II

  • Chapter Two: The Changing Visions of Economics
  • Chapter Three: The Market's Place and Scope in Contemporary Egalitarian Political Theory
  • Chapter Four: Noxious Markets

Part III

  • Chapter Five: Markets in Women's Reproductive Labor
  • Chapter Six: Markets in Women's Sexual Labor
  • Chapter Seven: Child Labor: A Normative Perspective
  • Chapter Eight: Voluntary Slavery and the Limits of the Market
  • Chapter Nine: Ethical Issues in The Supply and Demand of Human Kidneys
  • Conclusion