By Michael Sandel

cover of the book by Michael Sandel
Editions:Paperback: $ 9.98
ISBN: 978-0374533656
Pages: 256

"A renowned political philosopher rethinks the role that markets and money should play in our society

Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we put a price on human life to decide how much pollution to allow? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars, outsourcing inmates to for-profit prisons, auctioning admission to elite universities, or selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay?

In his New York Times bestseller What Money Can't Buy, Michael J. Sandel takes up one of the biggest ethical questions of our time: Isn't there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don't belong? What are the moral limits of markets?

In recent decades, market values have crowded out nonmarket norms in almost every aspect of life. Without quite realizing it, Sandel argues, we have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.

In Justice, an international bestseller, Sandel showed himself to be a master at illuminating, with clarity and verve, the hard moral questions we confront in our everyday lives. Now, in What Money Can't Buy, he provokes a debate that's been missing in our market-driven age: What is the proper role of markets in a democratic society, and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?"

Reviews:Thomas Wells on Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) wrote:

"Michael Sandel's most recent book, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, purports to demonstrate that markets corrupt or degrade the goods they are used to allocate. He argues that we as a society should deliberate about the proper meaning and purpose of various goods, relationships and activities, and thus how they should be valued. I fail to be persuaded by Sandel's arguments, however; I don't think they work, and I don't find his communitarian political philosophy attractive. But the book does succeed as a provocation: it evokes a healthy attitude of critical resistance to what may be called rapacious capitalism."

John Lanchester on The Guardian wrote:

"I had moments when I wanted What Money Can't Buy to be more charged, to use more of the language of right and wrong and less of the bloodless vocabulary of 'norms'. But Sandel, I came to realise, is doing something very specific in this book. It's a work of political philosophy more than it is a polemic: he wants to make it unambiguously clear that markets have a moral impact on the goods that are traded in them. To understand the importance of his purpose, you first have to grasp the full extent of the triumph achieved by market thinking in economics, and the extent to which that thinking has spread to other domains."

Diana Coyle on The Independent wrote:

"Sandel is particularly opposed to the idea, attributed to economics, that all human relations are market relations. His opposition to market relations stems not from an argument about fairness (that rich people can afford more), or about blackmail (poor people are effectively forced to make unpalatable choices because they need the money). Instead, his argument is that introducing market choices into domains where civic values ought to prevail has a degrading and corrosive effect. [...] <em<What Money Can't Buy will tap into a widespread unease about having to limit government and accept a larger private domain in this age of austerity; and about crass commercialisation when unemployment and inequality are too high. But it does not offer a clear guide to which markets are repugnant, and why."

Gil Shidlo on London School of Economics Blog wrote:

"There are some critics who think the book does not go far enough by adopting a more prescriptive approach. In my view, Sandel fully fulfills what any scholar would have liked to see, and even takes it one full step forward – he brings the issue to be debated and raises it in a way each one of us feels fully equipped to voice concerns. There is no need to be a scholar or a philosopher of some stature to question attitudes, values and norms. Michael Sandel has brought all different elements of society to face the problem, debate it and stop society from unraveling. I truly applaud a scholar, who has successfully taken a philosophical debate outside of the confined space of a classroom, in a manner that gives all of the participants the power to affect change."

Allen R. Sanderson on his personal website at the University of Chicago wrote:

"In What Money Can't Buy, Harvard political philosopher Sandel, author of Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? (2009), points fingers at alleged examples of market mechanisms (aka using prices) that he asserts are unfair and distort cultural values. Just because I can buy something, should I be allowed to? Thus, if I'm wealthy enough or care enough, can I buy a nicer prison cell, use a car-pool lane, or pay someone to stand in line for me? For a price, can cash-strapped cities slap advertising on police cars, subway stops, or public buildings? Should schools pay students to get better grades, or firms fine employees for not exercising?(Question: Could this reviewer get the publisher to pay him to lecture in a 'Michael Sandel Rocks!' t-shirt?) Entertaining, richly referenced, and with a chip-on-the-shoulder air, the book will be 'scripture' for cocktail-party repartee and bar debates.But the author fails to present alternatives that demonstrate nonmarket solutions are fairer or do not themselves corrupt societal values.Nevertheless, this is a provocative book that is accessible to all levels of students. Summing Up: Recommended. Public, academic, and professional collections."

Tom G. Palmer on Cato Institute wrote:

"In a book full of praise for the moral virtues of nonmonetary exchanges, there is only one concession to the advantages of markets: 'As the cold war ended, markets and market thinking enjoyed unrivaled prestige, understandably so,' Sandel graciously concedes. 'No other mechanism for organizing the production and distribution of goods had proved as successful at generating affluence and prosperity.' It’s something, but it ain’t much. In contrast, nonmarket norms, such as queuing, subsistence hunting, need, chance, and honor (mostly unaccompanied by any specific mechanisms of allocation), are consistently praised as 'higher.' That’s a remarkably obtuse approach. There is a long tradition of thinkers, from Montesquieu and Voltaire to Milton Friedman and Deirdre McCloskey, that has focused attention on the moral virtues of markets, not merely their ability to produce wealth."

Further information


Lecture on the book

Table of Contents


  • Market triumphalism
  • Everything for sale
  • The role of markets
  • Our rancorous politics


  • Airports, amusement parks, car pool lanes
  • Hired line standers
  • Ticket scalpers
  • Concierge doctors
  • Markets versus queues
  • Yosemite Campsites
  • Papal masses
  • Springsteen concerts


  • Cash for sterilization
  • The economic approach of life
  • Paying kids for good grades
  • Bribes to lose weight
  • Selling the right to immigrate
  • A market in refugees
  • Speeding tickets and subway cheats
  • Tradable procreation permits
  • Tradable pollution permits
  • Carbon offsets
  • Paying to kill an endangered rhino
  • Ethics and economics