Michael Sandel’s ‘What Money Can’t Buy’: Book Review

Michael Sandel’s ‘What Money Can’t Buy’: Book Review
  • Opening Intro -

    You may have heard of Michael Sandel.

    In 2011, this renowned Harvard Philosopher broadcast a TV series called 'Justice with Michael Sandel' which featured him gulping coffee and pacing the room in front of his students as he asked various questions that are essential for anyone interested in the relationships between finance and philosophy.

    For instance:

    What would you pay to save your spouse from a burning building?

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You may have heard of Michael Sandel. In 2011, this renowned Harvard Philosopher broadcast a TV series called ‘Justice with Michael Sandel’ which featured him gulping coffee and pacing the room in front of his students as he asked various questions that are essential for anyone interested in the relationships between finance and philosophy. For instance:

What would you pay to save your spouse from a burning building?

Is it morally justified to give children financial rewards for getting good grades in high school?

Are some jobs or types of financial transaction morally off-limits – such as people being paid to donate their organs?

And so on, and so forth.

Sandel is a very engaging speaker, and his philosophical broadcasts garnered a wide audience not just in the US but also in the UK (the British Broadcasting Corporation in Great Britain broadcast ‘Justice with Michael Sandel’ on a regular basis and to great acclaim) and in other countries across the globe.

A couple of years afterwards, he turned his ideas into an equally engaging, and very readable, book: ‘What Money Can’t Buy: On the Moral Limits of Markets‘. Published by Penguin, this book is essential and enjoyable reading for anyone interested in the deeper questions behind finance.

The questions cited above may seem broad and unrelated to the desk job of your average financial trader. But therein lies the beauty of Sandel’s arguments. He has a talent for linking these clear philosophical questions to the dynamics of markets and the complex, intricate, world of finance.

Influenced in particular by the legal philosopher John Rawls, Sandel brings us financial theory with heart and soul. His critique focuses particularly on the market society. He asks whether it is right that everything can (potentially) have its price: including good grades, human organs and the lives of our loved ones. Are there some things that money ought not to be able to buy?

What would you do to turn your home into a bank:

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‘What Money Can’t Buy’ is a book that attempts to suggests where we should place the limits of a market economy. Sandel wants to delineate precisely which things can be bought and sold, and which things ought never to become part of a financial transaction.

Whether or not you agree with Sandel’s views, there is no denying that this is a fascinating and very thought provoking book. The arguments are laid out clearly and in a very understandable style, accessible even to people with no prior training at all.

We have all heard of popular science books. Can this book be categorized under a new genre, ‘Popular Finance’, perhaps?

Travel reference:

visiting Georgia

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