The National Catholic Review

I just finished reading and studying an important book which is quite germane in the middle of an election-year campaign: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael Sandel (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2012). Sandel, a gifted teacher and political philosopher who teaches at Harvard University, conducted, three years ago, a very popular PBS show based on his book, Justice; What is the Right Thing to Do? Sandel has no problems with markets and the economy. But he laments that " we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society." He sees a prevailing ideology which underscores faith in markets as the primary means for achieving the public good. But, he argues, "we need a public debate about what it means to keep markets in their place." As he tellingly asks: "Do we want a society where everything is up for sale ? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?"

Naturally enough, money can not buy love or true friendship. We do not think we should be able to buy or sell children (although some have suggested a market for adoptions!) or hire someone to serve as our jury substitutde. Yet, the turn to the private profit sector has proliferated as for-profit schools, hospitals, private prisons, private security guards and the outsourcing of war through hired mercenaries grow apace. Sandel recounts the complaints by members of New York's Public Shakespeare in the Park Company that rich people hired people to stand in line for them to obtain the free tickets given on a first come, first serve basis. He also mentions the condemnation by church officials when scarce tickets to papal masses in New York and Washington were scalped. Church spokesmen thought access to a religious rite should not be bought or sold. Cash is one—often enough legitimate—source to obtain goods and services. But there are other criteria to be considered: merit, need, even the sense of waiting our turn in that great equalizer, the queue.

So, Sandel asks: should people be able to pay to get to the head of the line in public facilities, such as airports ? To drive alone in car pool lanes for a fee? Should people pay people to get sterilizations? Or to quit smoking or lose weight? Should having money determine who gets transplants for kidneys or first access in emergency rooms? Sandel notes that "often market incentives erode or crowd out non-market motives." Money to lose weight or stop smoking, often enough, induces us to do the right thing for the wrong reason. As a result, smokers soon resume or weight losers gain the weight back. Marketing a good can change its meaning and corrupt attitudes and norms worth protecting.

Thus, one pundit suggested tradeable procreation permits to help limit over-population. If a couple wants more children than the allowed two, they can buy the procreation permit from someone who does not want to use the allotted two. As Sandel notes, such ways of thinking turn a child into a commodity and cast a dark shadow on the moral good of parenthood. In a similar way, another person has suggested using a market mechanism to allocate refugee resettlement. Sandel complains: "To think of refugees as burdens to be unloaded or as revenue sources rather than as human beings in peril" degrades the status of the refugee. Sandel is also not a fan of cap and trade market mechanisms for controlling greenhouse gas. He prefers a carbon tax (a kind of fine). As he sees it, like the resort to outsourcing to mercenaries in our nation's wars, cap and trade can involve an outsourcing of a civic obligation: "It enhances an instrumental attitude toward nature and it undermines the spirit of shared sacrifice that may be necessary to create a global environmental ethic."

Two dangers in marketizing everything lie in the issue of fairness and the issue of corruption. Thus, a market in body parts might assume a fair and free exchange of a kidney for money. But poverty may explain the transaction and indicate that the exchange is less free, more coerced, than meets the eye. Inequalities of wealth blunt the so-called blind fairness of markets. If someone can simply buy access to the best university or to obtain an honorary degree, this corrupts the good of university education. If we knew money had determined the granting of an award based on merit (a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize) we would feel the award had been corrupted. Buying elections has a similar corrupting taint.

One of the things I found illuminating in Sandel's argument is his uncovering the fact that many main stream economists do not like the economic inefficiency of gift giving. They often argue that, instead of Aunt Sarah giving you a $120 dollar argyle sweater, it would be more efficient if she just gave you the money so you could buy with it what would have been your own preference. This is to be blind to the role of gift-giving as more than some market exchange. It signals love. Gifts are not only about utility (which, in a sense, if the only moral relationship markets know).

That is why the famous study by Richard Titmus, The Gift Relationship, is so illuminating. Titmus compared blood giving in the United States (where blood was bought on markets as well as coming from volunteers) with blood giving in the United Kingdom where blood only came from volunteers. The British blood supply was always more ample and sure, relying on volunteers. Selling blood may not be a fair and free exchange but, instead, exploit the poor. Titmus also argued that introducing a money market into blood volunteering reduces the sense of gift-giving, gratuitous generosity and he worried that a decline in the spirit of altruism in one sphere can boomerang. I became more appreciative of the insistence by Pope Benedict in his economic-social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate , on re-introducing the notion of gift and gratuitousness into economic thought. Most economists do not really understand the logic of gift. Marketizing gift-giving undermines it.

Most economists also tend to misunderstand virtue and altruism. Frequently, they assume these are scarce and rare qualities and we had better resort to market allocations rather than rely on or deplete such scarce goods. Resorting to Aristotle, Sandel argues: "Altruism, generosity and civic spirit are not like commodities that are depleted with use. They are more like muscles that develop and grow stronger with exercise." Sandel cites examples in Israel where three groups of students were sent out to raise money for cancer victims. One group was motived simply by altruism. A second group was promised a one percent cash bonus for what they garnered; a third group was promised a ten percent bonus. In fact, those motivated by altruism actually gained the most. Similarly, when trial laywers were asked to take a reduction in fees to support poor clients, they refused. But they were willing to do so, pro bono.

Sandel also laments the proliferation of ads now found on eggs and apples in supermarkets (pushing television shows), on fire hydrants, in school buildings (one school was willing to sell ads which would appear on report cards!). Some police departments have allowed ads to appear on their police cars. We are selling naming rights to public parks. As someone has said of this invasion of everyday life by such commercial motives: Will Thoreau's Walden Pond become Wal-Mart Pond? As Sandel reminds us: "Most of our political debates today are conducted between those who favor unfettered markets and those who maintain that market choices are free only when they're made on a level playing field, only when the basic terms of social cooperation are fair." Some things money can't or, at least, should not be allowed to buy! Understanding and protecting citizenship and a true civic public good entails we vigorously enter this debate.

John A. Coleman, S.J.


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J Cosgrove | 8/1/2012 - 12:19am
''But, do you not think Prof Sandel deserves the same intellectual respect you demand? ''

I am not sure I understand this comment.  I think Sandel made an assortment of complaints about things he does not like and I said it looks like they are probably personal to him.  These assorted complaints are made about the market and is juxtaposed with the word immoral.  I am not sure which ones are supposed to be be immoral.  This certainly is feeding a psychosis that exist within our society that somehow the market itself is immoral.  Witness the protestations of the Occupy movements.

Are they all supposed to be immoral.  Remember the title of the book and the OP is ''Moral Limits of Markets.''  Certainly putting ads on apples is not immoral nor is putting Wal Mart's name on a park.  They may not be desirable actions but hardly immoral.  If it is, then this definition of immorality is too broad to be of much use.  So yes, I think a definition of immorality is necessary and one should not have to read another book to get at it.  It might be worthwhile for you or Fr. Coleman to cite which of the complaints by Sandel are incontrovertibly immoral since some must be to justify the title.  Might be a more fruitful discussion.

Sandel wrote a book on justice.  I am not familiar with it but from people like Socrates, we know that the concept of justice is mushy.  The concept of ''fairness'' is mushy.  An altruism can be dangerous if used as a basic philosophy.  For example, you would be obliged to consider others wishes in all cases or you are not truly being altruistic.

To say that ''market now is  the measure of all things'' is nonsense.  That is not a reflection on the market as a mechanism but on the culture of the people using the market.  So it is misplaced.  The market is a mechanism, how a group decides to use it is different from the mechanism itself.  They could just as easily use a non-market mechanism to accomplish the same objective, for example bribing bureaucrats to get the adopted child.  So one could make the same criticism against bureaucracies.  So I think Sandel's ideas are shallow but some of his complaints are worth discussing since they represent disturbances of the culture that are not desirable.
Dan Hannula | 8/2/2012 - 4:39pm
David #28/34: Sorry, did not intend to ignore you question and comments. No I didn't not read the reviews/article JRC refers to. I have read Sandel before, I understand (I think) his point of view and want to make up my own mind. I disagree that it has "limited utility" or is a "protest." Prof Sandel is, I submit, attempting at least two things; one he is trying to show that market values which have invaded nearly every part of life, by doing so, crowd out other values. That helps him direct us to an ancient philosophical theme: the good life, which sadly is a topic that draws blank stares yet he (and I) believe is one of the prerequisite questions before we get to broader concepts like "justice."

As one of my former Jesuit philosophy professor once remarked: you have to get the questions right first.

As I have remarked, I believe (and hope) Sandel's book is really just part of a series that brings us further along this path.

But, in doing so, it has a "protest" aspect to it. But, one misses the point if one concludes that is the books main purpose. 
J Cosgrove | 8/1/2012 - 11:08am
In my previous post, I used the wrong name.  It is Michael Sandel, not Michael Sandler.
David Smith | 8/1/2012 - 11:09pm
Well, of course it's all of a piece.  What we see here as market abuses are no doubt caused by a culture that has deteriorated ethically and morally in recent decades. I'm afraid that in the absence of religious restraints, people drift into societies without moral limits and without even ethical limits, to the extent that ethics are determined by considerations other than purely pragmatic ones. Religions present people with moral laws that are simply true, that can't be argued away, because they're givens.

And the question behind the problem is whether modern societies are able to function with religious restraints, or whether, because modern societies are by nature pluralistic and in constant flux, constantly changing, they must refuse to be subject to any immutable truths - must, in fact, deny that they exist.
J Cosgrove | 8/1/2012 - 10:58am
The more I consider this the more shallow and superficial Sandler's arguments are looking. At first I just reacted to the standard attempt by a lot of intellectuals to belittle markets but the more I have read by Sandler on this, the more it looks like there are ulterior motives behind the title and the book and people just willy nilly have taken them and nodded their heads when they should have scrutinized them more closely.

Sandler doesn't like certain things.  That is OK with me.  There are a lot of things I don't like.  But then he tries to impugn the market mechanism as the cause of the things he does not dislike.  And there is no relationship between the two.  The culture has generated some things he does not like and he objects to idea that one can then buy these things and therefore the market is at fault.  This is illogical at best but I suspect something else for this irrelevant bait and switch which he has made. 

Obtaining undesirable things has been true for all the history of mankind especially when the market was only a place to buy and sell food or your labor.  A king didn't even have to pay for something.  He could order his servants or vassals to do his bidding, whether it was a local serf girl for his bed, the prize food for his table, best tailor for his clothes etc.  Similarly his baron or dukes could do the same.  Now of the three examples, I just mentioned only one would thought to be immoral unless the food was taken from starving people.

So the use of the word ''moral'' is suspect at best.  One has to ask why he used it.  In his summary of his ideas in the Boston Review, he spends nearly all the first half of the article on gift giving or providing things for friends.  Hardly worth the title of ''moral''  and it has no relationship with the word ''market.''  But yet they are together in the title.

Sandler seems to have an axe to grind and has almost no evidence to support his position.  There is nothing wrong with the market mechanism.  It is elements of the culture he abhors.  The market is just the most efficient mechanism for distributing the mal functioning culture which he does not like.  There is no evidence that the market has created the culture.  I would point to other things for undesirable cultural elements.  For example, what is being promulgated by intellectual elites may be a good place to start looking.

Now given that it is not really the market that is at fault, society or culture determines that certain things should not be available and hence the market mechanism is not open to the sale of these items.  We may end up with what is called a ''Black Market'' but that is hardly the ''Free Market.''  The best example I can think of today is drugs.  There are lots of illicit drugs for sale but not legally.  There is no free market for these goods in the US.  Because of that tens of thousands are dying at various places in the world.  We have only to look at Mexico to see the number of people who have died because Americans want drugs.  So do we open this up in the US to the free market and accept the hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of future addictions or keep it as a Black Market and cause thousands to die in its trafficking.  Not a market issue but a society problem.

So I propose that for the second printing, Sandler change the title of the book to ''Moral Limits of Culture and Social Thought.''  It would be a more accurate description of the problem he outlines, if indeed most of what he objects to are really problems at all such as gift giving.
David Smith | 7/31/2012 - 10:32pm
As Joe remarks (#27), markets and governments are inherently neither moral nor immoral.  Ideally, they complement one another, markets being essentially the human being in action and governments being the human in reaction.  One lights and tends a fire; the other tries to keep it from spreading out of control.

Dan (#25), it seems pretty clear that this book isn't meant to be a closely reasoned investigation of a social phenomenon but, rather, a protest against what the author simply believes is wrong.  A book like that has limited utility - it's meant mostly to shore up the convictions of believers.  Did you read the articles JRC pointed to in #18?
Dan Hannula | 8/1/2012 - 8:18am
JR Cosgrove #30; fair enough again. You wisely comment (more than once) that it depends on the definition of "moral." My take on Sandel's little book is that it is a detailed essay on "value," an understanding of which is a prerequisite to that definition. Sandel is not attempting to write a comprehensive book on morality. He is writing about value and only about "market values." I think the negative skepticism shown on this blog is some proof that a preliminary book like this is needed as part of our civic dialog.

He attempts to demonstrate with page after page of examples, that "market values" applied to everything (e.g., even to adoption) crowds out other values. When he says crowds out, he means that in a profound way. Paying the homeless to hold you a place in a long line leads other uses of market values and so on. It is a simple proof; a preliminary proof. I think I know where he wants us to go-after the last page. He wants us to examine what is value? Is market value the only real value? Of course not, but the book is a wake up call-what are my values? What is at the center of my morality? And then, perhaps, you and I can come to that definition of "moral."

I think Sandel did a good job of identifying what some of us experience as an annoyance that perhaps sadly has become the "measure of all things." You call it shallow-I think it is a preliminary step in a long analysis of what you call the mushy concept of justice.
Dan Hannula | 7/31/2012 - 11:08am
I just finished the book too-great read! It counters those (on the right) who insist that "free markets" solve all social problems.  I was taken by the reference to Judge Richard Posner's (a devotee of the Chicago "Law and Econimics" school) serious law review article that suggested that adoptive children be auctioned. That's Certainly a free market alternative to the bureaucracy of all those social workers sticking their noses in our business.  That tells us how far this insanity has gone.  Also, some of the comments here suggest as much.  

Mr.  Cosgrove, (#4, 11, 18, 23), I recommend that you actually read the book. Sometimes devoutly held ideology should be challenged.
Dan Hannula | 7/31/2012 - 11:05pm
Fair enough, JR Cosgrove #26.  But, do you not think Prof Sandel deserves the same intellectual respect you demand? As the author at #14 pointed out, many comments missed the point of Sandel's book. It's about market values as the only measure of value, not about the relative morality of free markets? Since the time of Socrates we've debated whether or not man is the measure of all things. Sandel notes that it has become even simpler than that: just the market now is  the measure of all things.

The morality of the market is interesting but not exactly Sandel's point. And, if you want to know how Sandel defines  moral check out his book on justices 
Tom Maher | 7/29/2012 - 5:56pm
Economic history also shows free markets distinctly outperform government  run economies in implementing new technoligies and making new technoligies of every type available across society to the great economic advantage of society..

Ihis phenominom of rapid technoligical change and development is not dealt with in stale old socialist economic models such as Marxism that view technoligical progress as a threat rather tha an opportuity to a much higher standard of living shared by all. 

Government bureacrats do not have the imagination, focus, incentives, skills or ability to incorporate the benefits of technology into a economy.  Private enterprise free markets do not have that problem at all.  Scientific and technoligical progress are hugh factors in the economic advance of societties that governemnt central planning of the economy does not handles very poorly.  Markets seekout and use new technoligies and thereby create new jobs and whole new industires while increasing everyone's standatd of living.   Socialist and Utopian economic models lack adaption to rapid technoligical progress.
Joe Kash | 7/31/2012 - 5:57pm
Is a ''market'' moral?

Is a ''government'' moral?

What kind of questions are these?  These are things.  People's actions can be judged as moral.  There can be immoral actions in the free market arena.  There can be immoral actions in government.

When markets are truly free then there will be decentralized power.  There will be less concentration of power for immoral people to abuse.  In governement power is centralized and often very large.  Immoral people can do great harm with this centralized power.

It is government that distorts markets in favor of large corporations rather than allowing markets to be truly free. 
Claire Bangasser | 7/30/2012 - 1:22pm
Quite an interesting article, but which leaves with my hunger, as we'd say in French. Which led me to think of another angle possible to look at the markets: their moral deficiencies. It might expand what has been presented so well here.
I'll have to think more about it. 
David Smith | 7/30/2012 - 3:02am
Thanks, JRC (#18) for
I read about half of it, then my eyes glazed over.  This is the sort of thing I didn't like about the amazon sample of What Money Can't Buy.  Sandel is simply giving his interpretation of facts that can be interpreted in a thousand different ways.  It's a seemingly interminable conversation that drones on and on and teaches nothing.  It's just a smart, articulate guy spending hours giving you his opinions about life.  I can see the appeal - the attraction, the entertainment value - for people who are sympathetic with Sandel's outlook, but one might think that even they, after a while, would begin to nod off.  I guess not.
J Cosgrove | 7/30/2012 - 10:19am

I believe a lot of what Sandel doesn't like is not immoral, again depends on how you define immoral.  But rather they are unseemly. It used to be that polite society would reign one in on this but in our culture there is little of this anymore.  In fact it is now seen as intolerant to do so.  Now instead of being frowned upon it is just being creative or expressive or liberating, a form of release or authentic ???, there are probably a hundred other adjectives that are appropriate. 

Each of the readers here may have a current trend or several that they find objectionable but the set might not coincide with Sandel's.  There may be that a few of his objections have merit as seriously detrimental to society but they are mixed in with others that he just finds inappropriate for his ''cocktail set.''

Suppose one was told that the ads on the apples reduced the price of the apples by 20 cents a pound and that a poor person could now have more apples as a result.  Or that by naming the park after Walmart, the money allowed for more hiking trails and the maintenance of a new pond where water fowl, fish and other animals could breed and the children as well as adults could enjoy this.  By the way the local Rockefeller Preserve does just that though it was not named after them for money but was given to the local community by the Rockefeller estate. 
Tom Maher | 7/30/2012 - 12:42am
John Coleman # 14

Is it possible you are not aware of how provoking your words are?  You are sending out two different messages at the same time.  One of the messages  is very hostile to free markets which everyone is reacting to.  Some people are approving of your message attacking  free markets and some are disapproving to your message attacking free markets. But did you notice that everyone is reacting? 

Is it possible that you do not understand the political and economic implications and impact of you words 100 days before an very intentensely contested general election?   The role of the  public sector v private sector in our economy is the major issue of this election.  Which sector will provides provides more job creation and economic growth is an essential debate in this election.  And free markets are the private sector.  When you use the phrase "The moral limits of markets" without carefully delimiting what you are talking about you implicitly deminish braodly probably greatly the role and benefit of the free market private sector over the public sector based on moral grounds..  Dimishing the free market in any way as being immoral is highly objectionable and requires of a defense of the free market's overwhelming benefit to society. 
David Smith | 7/30/2012 - 2:23am
JRC (#18):
Interesting topic but I still maintain one has to define the words moral, just and fair because how one comes out on this topic may depend on what they think these words mean.
The first reviewer at, an admirer of Mr. Sandel, writes:
Michael Sandel is, to my mind, perhaps the greatest living political theorist. To get an idea of his breadth, check out his books on Amazon (and read my reviews of a couple). This book, however, is really journalistic social commentary and says nothing new. However, it is great reading, as Sandel has done an excellent job at amassing anecdotes to the effect that more and more of social life takes the form of market interactions.
So, it's polemic.  Which is fine - but it's not argument.
J Cosgrove | 7/30/2012 - 12:02am
Mr. Kopacz,

Very few ''free market'' people do not recognize the place for the government in our well being.  Hayek spends a lot of time talking about the role of government in society.  Mainly, free market people do not want the government intervening in the market by favoring some or making it difficult for others to participate.  The government has very definite roles to play especially one of fairness and ensuring contracts and private property.  It also has had a role in developing some very useful research.

Basic research or even very practical research would be an area that many would support.  The same for universities.  Silicon Valley grew out of a relationship between the government, Stanford University and private business in California.  The government wanted defense programs supported by high powered engineers and scientists and Stanford and other universities became a breeding ground for these engineers and scientists to support these projects in connection with private industry.  The working relationship eventually expanded far beyond the original defense contracts and a technological revolution emerged from these interrelationships.  This particular relationship has proven one of the most beneficial partnerships in the history of the country or even the world.  

Similarly a lot of the airplane industry grew out of government contracts for military aircraft and I personally know of a lot of communication breakthroughs that are being developed by government contracts with private industry for the military and will eventually have very positive uses in the private sector.  I personally wouln't even object to something like Solyndra except it became a very political exercise instead of a development of basic or even practical research.
J Cosgrove | 7/29/2012 - 11:33pm
Maybe readers should do three things,

Read the reviews on Amazon.  Some are from very learned people on the topic

A long article by Michael Sandel at Boston Review where he discusses in detail his ideas

and to get some contrary reviews of Sandel's ideas on Boston Review by Matt Welch and Herbert Gintis.  Gintis is also one of the reviewers on Amazon.  Some in the comments support Welch and some react strongly against him.

nteresting topic but I still maintain one has to define the words moral, just and fair because how one comes out on this topic may depend on what they think these words mean.
Stanley Kopacz | 7/29/2012 - 9:52pm
This contrast of government and the private sector with the private sector having all the competence and government full of incompetent bureaucrats, is, like all ideological picture making, not necessarily true.  I mean, you have Los Alamos and NIST and Sandia and Oak Ridge.  You can quibble about the farming out of management of these institutions to non-government organizations, but they are government institutions serving military, energy, manufacturing and transportation needs.  The government put men on the moon and developed nuclear fission and fusion.  It subsidizes the development of technologies too risky for private industry.  Private industry moves in later and benefits from these developments.  so it's not so ideologically simple.  As for the perfection of private industry, witness Kodak dropping the ball on electronic imaging.  Or the big three car manufacturers falling behind.  Though they did well as financial institutions.
David Smith | 7/29/2012 - 11:26pm
Government bureaucrats didn't develop the atomic and hydrogen bombs.  A pity, perhaps - Nagasaki and Hiroshima might never have been bombed.

It doesn't seem to me that markets dictate anything. You're not forced to watch or even care a fig about the Academy Awards or buy Palmolive soap.  I very much dislike the name-my-grandmother-for-cash fashion, but that's the culture, not the markets.  Markets aren't churches or political parties - their only function is to facilitate the interchange of goods.

I looked at the book and found it extremely judgemental.  Not my cup of tea.  True-believer stuff.  Fine, I guess, if you want to read something that helps you sharpen your cocktail-party arguments, but for the rest of us, life is too short to waste reading ideological rants.
Vince Killoran | 7/29/2012 - 8:58pm
Fr. Coleman's question (#14) on why we gravitate to the market for damn near everything is an important one. Part of the answer lies in the fact that mid-twentieth century social critics-believing that we lived in a world of post-scarcity-took their eye off the workings of capitalism. 

Conservatives re-focused the nation's attention on capitalism in the midst of the dreary 1970s economy and seized on the notion of "martket populism."  They were hopping mad when the U.S. Bishops published their "Ecomomic Justice for All" Pastoral Letter in the mid-1980s.  

If you haven't read Thomas Frank''s critique of "market populism" yet please follow the link:Market populism was promulgated less by a political party than by business itself-through management theory, investment literature and advertising-and it served the needs of the owning community far more directly than had the tortured populism of the backlash. . . .Market populism is, in many ways, the most blatant apologia for economic inequality since social Darwinism. But there can be no doubting the intensity of the true believers' faith."
George Perkins | 7/28/2012 - 3:32pm
I have taught microeconomic theory for almost 40 years.  In addition, to encouraging students in introductory courses to appreciate the market mechanism as an mathematically elegant system, I try to distinguish where it works well and where it does not.  My pedagogy assigns students to work many rich problem sets, but this approach biases them toward mathematical elegance.  Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom, which relies on freedom and the-greatest-good-for-the greates-number as its moral principles, has also been regularly assigned and discussed in this course.  However, I have struggled to find an adaquate foil to counter his view.  Over the years I have tried several alternatives.  For several years now I have pointed students to Justice (the PBS series) but have bee reluctant to assign Sandel's book by the same title. After reading Sandel's What Money Can't Buy,  I may have found an answer.  I've added it as required reading for the fall semester.
John Coleman | 7/29/2012 - 8:18pm
A number of the comments seem to have missed the point of the blog. Neither Sandel nor I raised any questions about the market as a good way to determine the allocation of goods and services in the economy. But the economy is only one good in a good society. Others included love, parenthood, education, a flourishing civil society, religion, culture etc. The question is whether market values should dictate ( or intrude too much) into these non-economic arenas ( or whether we should assume that all these other areas are merely secondary to a flourishing economy). Thus, should academy awards be automatically given to films with the highest box office gross or are there other values involved in that arena. Should be marketize religion ? Or buy brides? Nothing wrong ( far from it much much good) in markets in their place. Sandel, however, is arguing  that markets often intrude where they are not appropriate and we pay a price in terms of the common good when they do so. No need to rehash a very different question about markets and the economy. The blog did not touch that, but too many reponses have simply by-passed Sandel's important argument. Do we buy and sell all goods ( including non-economic ones) and does resort to a market logic where it is not appropriate ( e.g. determining who gets a transplant) do harm to the common good.
Carlos Orozco | 7/28/2012 - 2:16pm
Ed (#5):

Those numbers are due to Bernanke's Fed printing 15 Trillion dollars to save banksters around the world, leaving taxpayers as pledged collateral (and charging interest for every dollar printed or digitally created out of thin air).

In spite of such monstruous manipulation, that has benefited only the super rich (how strange), the economy does not pick up steam. The Hope and Change President has gone along hoping a temporal rebound will translate into reelection.
J Cosgrove | 7/29/2012 - 2:24pm
Professor Perkins,

I have a couple recommendations for your students and those who want to know more about the ''free market'' and want to understand its pros and cons. Here are two books and their links on Amazon.

The Mind and the Market by Jerry Muller -

He is at Catholic University and he covers in this book just about every criticism there is on capitalism or the free market.  And by the way as I am sure you understand but many here do not, they are really different ideas (capitalism and free markets) which is something that your students should understand.

There is also a video course on this by Muller at the Teaching Company which is excellent and extends a lot of the ideas that are in the book.  For example, the videos have four lectures on Adam Smith and continues up to the late 1900's covering modern day ideas on capitalism and the free markets.  Again this set of lectures covers all the objections to the free market but does not really deal with the complaints of Sandel.  It might be interesting for your students if they are advanced enough to look at Sandel's objections in light of what went on before his book.

The Morality of Capitalism -

This is a short book with essays from all over the world on the free market and capitalism.  This book is very inexpensive and you might contact the editor, Tom Palmer, for free copies for your students.  He literally travels the worlds as a proselytizer for free markets.  Some of the essays are different, especially one that discusses something called the ''Land of Gentlemen'' where everyone tries to consider the other person and how it leads to chaos.

Both of these books are available for the Kindle and the Muller book is available for the Nook.
ed gleason | 7/28/2012 - 1:38pm
The worshipers of the free market are frauds because they all know that the Dow and S&P doubled since Obama took over and still blame him for the weak economic recovery from their disaster policies. . Their mantra is and always will be 'more'
J Cosgrove | 7/28/2012 - 11:18pm
''all know that the Dow and S&P doubled since Obama took over and still blame him for the weak economic recovery from their disaster policies'' 

The financial crisis of 2008 was a liquidity crisis and essentially was over by Thanksgiving or early December of 2008.  Large funders of debt, mostly outside of the US, pulled their money and for a short time no one was sure if they could borrow money to pay for payrolls, inventory or other normal business operations.  The markets did not know the crisis was over till about March as money started to flow again.  It took time for the information to reach the financial community and assure it that things were not at the bottom of a cliff after the shock that hit in September of 2008.  The market crashed due to the uncertainty of the financial crisis and rebounded when there was more certainty that things were returning to some form of stability.

The current great recession is mainly due to the housing problem which also caused the financial crisis.  Thus, they are related in that both have the same cause.  The housing problem was caused by several things but primarily the relaxing of home buying standards which started in the early 1990's is the key one.  This policy had two effects, it steadily inflated the prices of houses beyond their true value and encouraged people to make risky investments in housing.  So that is the disaster policy that is at the root of our current problems.  This was not a free market policy so it is contradictory to use it to somehow argue against free markets.  It is an anti-free market policy that was the result of government intervention.

I am not sure what all this has to do with the OP which is about some undesirable things the free market may engender such as ads on apples, babies up for sale as part of adoption, how best to get blood donations, or the local park named after Walmart or buying free tickets from those who waited in line or jumping the line for a transplant etc.  
J Cosgrove | 7/28/2012 - 12:03pm
I have several comments:

1. One has to define what one means by moral if they are going to use the word.  It is an easy way to impugn something without examining it in detail, just by calling something immoral.  It is the same with the term, justice, which has had a checkered meaning and has been a problem for philosophers to actually pin down.  Also one has to be careful of the term ''altruism.''  The Great Leap Forward/Cultural Revolution of Mao was based on altruism and 70 million died.

2. The market is not the same thing as the free market.  There are plenty of markets that are rigged in this world, some in small ways and others in major ways.  A very high percentage of them are in fact not really free.  We then tend to criticize the ''free market''  when in fact what we are objecting to not a free market situation.  A popular term today is ''rent seeking'' and this is anything but a free market and is what lobbying is all about.

3.  Even if everything was a free market situation, there would still would be lots of things  we would object to but they would not necessarily be the same for everyone.  Fr. Coleman and Michael Sandel may object to something that other readers have no problem with and they in turn may prefer something that many readers would object to.  Who is the arbiter in such a situation?  Leave it up to elections?  That is another way of saying ''Might Makes Right'' as the winner legislates his preferences.

4. The free market is the most moral of all economic systems.  It allows for the freedom of all to search for and possibly achieve their objectives.  Nothing else in the history of mankind has allowed for the creativity of all and has provided such wealth, education, health or opportunities.  That does not mean it is perfect.  One should read Adam Smith, the Godfather of the free market, to see all the things he envisioned flowing from it that would not be desirable.  

We should be wary but we should also be careful what we do with noble objectives that try to make something better.  An even more important current concept than ''rent seeking'' is ''unintended consequences.''  Few of know where our noble intentions will lead us.  Something about a ''road to hell.''
Tom Maher | 7/28/2012 - 9:45pm

The fact that markets work extremly well is overwhelmingly proven by history that should always be presented to students.  For example, in the last three decades the Soviet Union and all its satellites countries Communist China rejected socialisms and reverted back to capitalism and markets.  Why is that ? Becasue the total control of the economy by governemnt despite elaborate utopian promises for a economic and political paradise consitantly failed for decades to meet even the minimum economic needs of basic economic such as food, clothing and shelter.  When the Soviet Union collapsed economically and politcally in 1989 bread lines for food wer the norm.  These conditons of scarcity were quickly corrected when the countries of the former Soviet Union and China went to a market based economy.  Relatively soon after these countires widely prospered and conitnue to do so such that now China is the second largest economy  in the world.  Worldwide third world countires such as India and Brazil also becasme more fully market based economis and privatized industires that were previously run by the governemnt  embraced the market and prospered. 

It is extremley misleading not to point out the profound contributions markets have made to the well being of society universally.  To indict markets as " morally limited"  as this article does becasue marktes do have lteechnial limits where they can not function for certain rare and exotic services or products that have to few buyers or sellers or extreme price costs.  In the general case when allowed to markets  function exteremly well in in providing adequate supply and variety at the lowest possible price and highest quality.  There is nothing inherently immoral about markets except in the minds of the Marxist and other ctritics with unreasonable utopian expectations.

There is no economic or politcal sytem in existance that functions for most products and services that functions as well as  free market capitalism.   Markets should be allowed to function to benefit society.
Stanley Kopacz | 7/28/2012 - 9:01am
False gods are born when something that is good within  its place and limits is granted power over everything.  Thus the present status of the "free market".
Carlos Orozco | 7/28/2012 - 5:51pm
Ed, I don't remember the President criticizing Bernanke's $15 T (15,000,000,000,000) bail out OF national and international mega banks through the privately-run Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve under current law is an independent entity that cannot even be audited by Congress.The banking cartel responds to NOBODY.

You can call Wall Street banks anything you want, but stupid they are not. Remember they were Obama's biggest donators back in 2008, and are sure to repeat int 2012 (they will back Ronmey as well, just to be sure). So they have bought the President's silence for millions of dollars and exchanged them for trillions. What a bargain!!!
ed gleason | 7/28/2012 - 4:12pm
#5 Carlos... Bernacke is a Republican appointed by Bush.. .....try a new spin again please..
J Cosgrove | 7/31/2012 - 5:44pm
''Mr. Cosgrove, (#4, 11, 18, 23), I recommend that you actually read the book. Sometimes devoutly held ideology should be challenged.''

You haven't a clue as to what my ideology is or what I believe or what I know.  So I suggest that you not make personal comments without any basis for them.  If you want to ask questions, that is fine, establish a dialogue, that is fine.  Those are two ways to proceed and I have seen it done on this site by other commenters.  I always answer any direct questions as best I can.  And people can disagree with me which is fine but at least they will know the basis for my comments.

When appropriate I constantly challenge the authors here and sometimes other commenters and I never object to being challenged myself if it is polite and sincere. The author of this OP can't possibly expect commenters to read the book in order to comment.  I found the OP a little vague so I went to Amazon to find reviews, found the Boston Review article where Sandel presented his ideas and read some other responses to the book.  Right now I have about 6 books I am reading and I see no reason to add this one.  No one including you has given me a good reason to do so.  You made one derogatory remark and I am not sure what it means.  And just as an aside, I do not believe babies up for adoption should be auctioned nor do I believe that bureaucracies do a good job in this area.

And I definitely believe that the free market is the most moral way to run an economic system and that alternatives are basically immoral.  But that does not mean that there shouldn't be some restrictions on the free market depending on the nature of the transactions being made or common good required.
Crystal Watson | 7/28/2012 - 12:04am
I've watched some of the videos of his Justice philosophy classes - really interesting :)   ....

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