Markets vs. Morals?

The mistaken worry that money and morality are at odds


What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, by Michael J. Sandel, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 256 pages, $27

Michael Sandel knows something about money. After all, the Harvard political philosopher exchanges his ideas for money—a lot of money, in fact. Now Sandel has written a book (available for $27) about what things should not be for sale.

Sandel's basic warning goes like this: Markets—by which he means the use of prices expressed in money—lead inevitably to commodification, which "corrupts" and "crowds out" the moral norms that should otherwise guide our interactions. In What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, Sandel looks upon other people's purchases and frowns. Important things in life—tickets to rock concerts, private medical consultations, access to shorter airline check-in lines—are being exchanged for money, he reports. "The reach of markets, and market-oriented thinking, into aspects of life traditionally governed by nonmarket norms is one of the most significant developments of our time," he writes, necessitating "a public debate about what it means to keep markets in their place."

Although Sandel is fuzzy on the specifics, he wants an enlightened debate to determine whether other people should be allowed to use prices when they cooperate or allocate scarce goods. "Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life," he writes. "And so, in the end, the question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together." Let's see where that takes us.

What Sandel offers as a moral/philosophical analysis of this alleged problem amounts to little more than an exploration of his own moral intuitions, unencumbered by critical self-scrutiny. Thus, "Treating religious rituals, or natural wonders, as marketable commodities is a failure of respect. Turning sacred goods into instruments of profit values them in the wrong way." This flat assertion may come as news to much of organized religion.

Synagogues regularly sell seats for the Days of Awe, or High Holy Days, which helps finance religious activities. One of my great aunts, a conservative French Catholic, sent me cards when I was a boy that said she had given money to an order of nuns to pray for me. Sikhs pay for scholars to read from their holy book. The candles one lights in Catholic cathedrals when saying a prayer are priced (not given away free); guests at traditional Polish weddings pin paper money on the dress of the bride in exchange for a dance. Do these practices show a lack of respect for religion and the sacrament of marriage? Should the collective "we" (Sandel uses the term a great deal in all of his books) prohibit the use of money to allocate synagogue seats, prayers, holy readings, candles, and dances with the bride? Or should those decisions be made by members of the respective synagogues, churches, and temples?

Sandel never once in his book entertains the idea that maybe we should let people sort such matters out for themselves, without having the decision made for them by "us." Instead, his own tastes are presented as suitable for everyone else. There's a serious danger with such intuitive collectivism: It disguises restatements of one's own unacknowledged and unexamined prejudices as a philosophical investigation and then imposes them on everyone else.

For Sandel, not deciding collectively on "competing conceptions of the good life" does not leave such questions undecided. Instead, "It simply means that markets will decide them for us." This statement is both ominous and incoherent. "Markets" are not some kind of omnipotent, singular, malevolent intelligence. When people exchange goods and services we use the term market. When the exchanges take place through the medium of money, the exchange ratios of goods against money are called prices. Sandel confuses prices with markets and then suggests that the question of whether something should be exchanged on markets will be "decided" by markets, which is a singular bit of confusion.

Sandel at least recognizes that a common alternative to pricing is waiting in line. But bizarrely, he seems rather fond of queues. He devotes a chapter to "Jumping the Queue," with subsections on "Markets Versus Queues" and "The Ethic of the Queue," and quotes approvingly a writer who moans that "gone are the days when the theme-park queue was the great equalizer, where every vacationing family waited its turn in democratic fashion." Sandel claims there are two arguments favoring prices over queues: "a libertarian argument…that people should be free to buy and sell whatever they please, as long as they don't violate anyone's rights," and a utilitarian economic argument. He then proceeds to ignore the libertarian argument while misunderstanding the economic.

Sandel acknowledges that "as markets allocate goods based on the ability and willingness to pay, queues allocate goods based on the ability and willingness to wait." Moreover, "there is no reason to assume that the willingness to pay for a good is a better measure of its value to a person than the willingness to wait."

Sandel thinks he has scored a fatal blow against the economic case for markets here, but what he doesn't get is that the price mechanism provides a decentralized system of signals and incentives that help us to better coordinate our behavior. Consider that a longer queue without prices sends no signal to producers to make more of the product for which people are queuing. Using prices, rather than queues, has the advantage of disseminating information about supply and demand. Sandel sees no coordinating advantages to price allocation and bemoans "the tendency of markets to displace queues and other nonmarket ways of allocating goods." He describes substitution of prices for queues as "places that markets have invaded."

Sandel is right that the use of prices can have disadvantages, which is the core insight of Ronald Coase's theory of the firm. If market pricing is so great, why are there firms? Because using the price system has costs. Firms, teams, and organizations are islands of nonprice allocation and coordination in a wider sea of price allocation. Price coordination co-exists with nonprice coordination. The issue is not which system will award scarce goods to those who value them the most but which will coordinate behavior better in which situations. Sometimes it's queues and sometimes it's prices, and sometimes it's both. (I'm in a Starbucks now, and the system here is first come, first served, probably because it would be too costly to have an auction on who gets served first. Still, the coffee is exchanged for money.)

Bakers of communion wafers generally sell them to churches for money. The churches provide them as part of a sacrament for which the faithful queue. Whether to use prices or queues and at which point is really none of Sandel's business.

Sandel is not only rhapsodic about queues but again invokes the collective we when he states: "Of course, markets and queues are not the only ways of allocating things. Some goods we distribute by merit, others by need, still others by lottery or chance." He's not just pro-queue but rather strongly against prices, which seem to him somehow dirty ("corrosive") as a coordinating mechanism. Never addressed is whether some of "us" should be allowed to work out for ourselves our own solutions, without having one imposed on all.

Sandel explains that some things "can't be bought," e.g., friendship. Aristotle may beg to differ; the Greek philosopher discussed "friendship for advantage" in Book 8 of the Nicomachean Ethics, declaring them one kind of friendship, though not the highest. Still, we may insult friends when we reward a favor with money; sometimes "the monetary exchange spoils the good being bought." That sounds right to me, if not all that original or deep.

Still, Sandel doesn't seem to have thought very hard about these things. His research skills have discovered that there is "a company in China" that you can pay to write an apology, and that at you can purchase a prefab wedding toast. "Apologies and wedding toasts are goods that can, in a sense, be bought," he writes. "But buying and selling them changes their character and diminishes their value." Perhaps. But so what? Drug store companies have been selling syrupy Hallmark cards for decades. I don't use them. Like Sandel, I speak and write for a living. Unlike Sandel, I understand that not everyone else does.

Among the many items Sandel believes are "degraded" when exchanged for money are human kidneys. Of course, allowing people to offer money for voluntarily donated kidneys may save lives (or "ease the gap between supply and demand," as Sandel delicately puts it), but it "taints" the goods exchanged. Making it illegal to exchange kidneys for money may be costing thousands of people their lives, but, hey, it satisfies our—which is to say, Professor Sandel's—desire to avoid tackiness.

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.

Sandel is surrounded by market exchanges that enhance his life, but all he can see is corruption, corrosion, and degradation. Never is the price system praised for displacing an inferior moral norm. It seems that whatever form of interaction is displaced by a price system must be better, higher, nobler. Au contraire! Markets punish and eventually push out tribalism, confessionalism, racism, cronyism, and many other traditions. And good riddance.

It's not as if this point has never been made. "Commerce is a cure for the most destructive prejudices; for it is almost a general rule, that wherever we find agreeable manners, there commerce flourishes," Montesquieu wrote in 1748, "and that wherever there is commerce, there we meet with agreeable manners." Sandel never acknowledges that intellectual tradition.

As Milton Friedman (who Sandel dismisses without engaging) once noted, "no one who buys bread knows whether the wheat from which it is made was grown by a Communist or a Republican, by a constitutionalist or a Fascist, or, for that matter, by a Negro or a white. This illustrates how an impersonal market separates economic activities from political views and protects men from being discriminated against in their economic activities for reasons that are irrelevant to their productivity—whether these reasons are associated with their views or their color."

Prices, contra Sandel, "corrode" many nonmarket norms that we are better off without. Markets promote color blindness, punctuality, mutual respect, the "double thank you" of voluntary exchanges, and peace. Somehow those virtues don't make it into Sandel's musings on the moral limits of markets.

What Money Can't Buy will titillate with its examples of odd things some people buy and sell. But it fails to provide moral guidance to how we should behave (other than not fooling ourselves by thinking we can buy true friendship), and it gives even less insight into the roles that prices and markets play in our lives. 

NEXT: Brickbat: Stranger Danger

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  1. So now not only am I too stupid to know what to spend my money on, spending it on anything is inherently evil in the first place. Awesome.

    My goal of becoming a neutral evil half-orc barbarian is now almost within reach!

    1. Neutral Evil is for wussies. Lawful Evil means you have to work at it.

      1. True evil never lets the law get in the way.

    2. Leftards are embracing their inner Christian fundamentalist.

      The only difference is that their faith in government, not Christ, leads to eternal salvation.

  2. Also anyone who is against buying your way out of queues has never stood nuts-to-butts in line with 300 Liberians waiting on an airplane. If Sandel would do that with me once he’d change his tune, but I bet he won’t even try!

    1. When you fly first class everywhere there’s no need to buy your way out of a queue. Oh, wait..

      1. Sandel’s solution to this would be to have all airline tickets be first class. And, free, because you can’t really place a price on vacationing in exotic locales or going to visit the folks at Christmas.

  3. I think the section on friendship shows that Sandel doesn’t actually understand what markets or prices actually are. Unfortunately, Palmer’s grudging concession that Sandel “seems right” here makes it appear that he doesn’t quite understand them, either.

    A market is not “goods exchanged for money”. A market is voluntary exchange of “whatever I want” for “whatever my counterparty wants”, when we can reach agreement. You’re overfocusing on money, when you should be focusing on voluntary exchange. Money transactions are a subset of voluntary exchanges.

    Once you realize that, friendship as a market transaction becomes much more clear. Friends exchange good treatment. You wouldn’t be “friends” with someone who beat you up every time they saw you. For all the bullshit psychobabble out there about “unconditional acceptance” or “unconditional love”, nobody actually does that. Everybody quite rightly puts conditions on relationships, even if the condition is something as basic as “you have to refrain from trying to murder me every time we meet”. That means people are undertaking relationships as exchanges.

    Once you make this explicit, you make Sandel’s case even weaker than it already is. Because he’s even more overtly trapped in an argument where he’s telling people what they should value. He’s not telling them “You shouldn’t enter exchanges!” because he can’t. He’s telling them “You exchange the wrong things!” which is indefensibly petty.

    1. Good point. Ultimately everyone has selfish motives for everything they do. Sandel just desperately wants the world not to be what it is.

      1. I disagree that motivation is ultimately selfish. People voluntarily enter into exchanges all the time for reasons that are not self-serving. There’s nothing wrong with this. Motivation to exchange is a personal and private matter, as far as I’m concerned. Sandel, I suspect, feels differently.

        1. I think fluffy covered this pretty well. “The essence of an exchange is that both parties are declaring their satisfaction.” Objecting to my use of the word ‘selfish’ doesnt change the essence of my point.

          I once had a friend who was dating a girl. He paid for her to have her teeth fixed. She thought it was a magnificently generous thing for him to do as they were nowhere near the kind of serious relationship where that kind of thing would be expected. He was a generous guy and he did have her interest in mind.

          However, he intimated to me that she was super talented at giving blowjobs, but she had developed a chipped tooth which made them painful. Rather than complain, he simply paid to have her teeth fixed. Make of that what you will.

          1. Fluffy is only referring to exchanges. Obviously, exchanges have selfish aspects to them. It does not follow that all motives for everything are selfish in nature, which was the point thom was trying to get at.

        2. I have no problem with selfish. Most of the things we do are motivated by some self-interest, whether it is obvious or not.

          1. I have no problem with selfish either. People’s motivations are nobody’s business but their own. But people do do things for purely altruistic reasons, and voluntarily enter into exchanges that run contrary to their interests, all the time – things that will make them less satisfied or happy. The word for this is sacrifice.

            1. But people do do things for purely altruistic reasons, and voluntarily enter into exchanges that run contrary to their interests, all the time – things that will make them less satisfied or happy.

              I question this. Again, it might be a matter of definitions.

              1. Examples, please.

                1. Anything you do because you want other people to do the same for you, for one. Purely self-interested people don’t follow these social niceties, because usually people will still do the nice things for them (because of imperfect information). Purely self-interested people free-ride. Most of us don’t.

            2. The most common relationship where that happens are parents sacrificing their own well being for the benefit of their children.

              Outside of that, it’s pretty rare.

              1. I’ve thought about that one, a lot.

                And here’s the thing:

                Nobody says that it’s a selfless act to eat a sandwich. Because we have a powerful biological drive to eat, and satisfying that drive isn’t selfless.

                Nobody says that it’s a selfless act to have sex. For the same reason.

                And all the evidence I’ve seen is that we have a powerful biological drive to have and raise children, and that actually doing so scratches that itch. It’s no more selfless to have kids than it is to get laid.

                1. “Nobody says that it’s a selfless act to have sex. For the same reason.”

                  Pity sex doesn’t exist?

            3. But people do do things for purely altruistic reasons

              Cite an example and we can look a little deeper to see what the self interest is.
              For some, it may be a simple as being able to think they are ‘good’ people.

          2. Of course. Even apparently “selfless” gestures like giving up your seat to the elderly or infirm have a long-range self-interest. When I’m old or infirm, I damn well expect to be GIVEN the seat!

            1. Plus doing so makes you feel good about yourself.

              1. But WHY does it make me feel good about myself? Not everyone gives up their seats. I give up my seat because I think it’s the moral thing to do. It has little to do with selfishness, since I think I could manage pretty well as a free-rider, at least seat-wise. And if you say “and doing the moral thing makes you happy”, for one thing you haven’t shown that’s the reason WHY I do it. For another, we just go back to the same issue: WHY does the moral thing make me happy?

                Also, whether something makes me happy or not is irrelevant to my sense of morality. The right thing for me to do doesn’t always feel good.

                1. Yes. A lot of sacrifices people make they make because they want other people to make the same sacrifices for them. A purely self-interested person free-rides, yet in practice, most of us don’t free-ride.

                  1. And yet I could easily free-ride in regards to giving seats. In my old city, I free-rode the buses all the time (literally; you’re supposed to pay or have college ID). If I thought that was actually making it difficult for other people, even without costing me, I’d stop; even though it doesn’t gain me anything, and I don’t expect it ever will.

                2. I give up my seat because I think it’s the moral thing to do. It has little to do with selfishness…

                  But there is your self interest. You think of yourself as a good (moral) person, so you must do things that affirm your self image. You are satisfying your internal critic. If you didn’t give up the seat, you’d beat yourself up for being a jerk just like those other jerks who don’t have an active internal critic.

                  1. But there is your self interest. You think of yourself as a good (moral) person, so you must do things that affirm your self image

                    And here it is again. If you define EVERYTHING in terms of self-interest, this almost makes sense. Almost. But not everyone cares as much about things like morals, even if they believe in them. WHY do I care about those things? WHY does my “self image” depend on doing what I think is right? Whe should I consider myself a “good person” at all? WHY should I care about any of that?

                    You are satisfying your internal critic.

                    We ususally call that a “conscience”. It’s a reminder of what I think is right and wrong, not the motivation to believe certain things are right or wrong.

                    If you didn’t give up the seat, you’d beat yourself up for being a jerk

                    But why should I? Whe should I give a damn about that? It’s because I have certain principles about what’s right and what’s wrong, and I believe they are important. But I don’t think they’re important because they benefit me. I believe it’s important, in and of itself, to treat people in certain way, regardless of the reward or penalty to me.

                3. While I think giving up my seat is the ‘proper’ thing to do I wouldn’t go so far as to say it “makes me feel good about myself”.

                  It’s a voluntary, cooperative gesture based on the ‘golden rule’. I do unto others BECAUSE I fully expect them to do unto me when I’m a feeble old biddy. In fact, I’ve already benefited from the the custom, since I once spent two months on crutches and was regularly offered seats.

                  And no– a purely self-interested person doesn’t “free-ride”, because a self-interested person presumably recognizes that a cooperation-based custom REQUIRES cooperation.

                  They also recognize that by NOT cooperating with this very public custom, they’re communicating to the rest of world that since they’re not giving up their seat to lame person X, they wouldn’t give up their seat to you or me either. Which is of greater benefit to the purely self-interested person– bus seat or reputation?

            2. I was once on a flight where I had a window seat, and the other two seats in my row were a mother and her toddler daughter. She also had a young son who was perhaps 4 or 5 who was assigned a seat across the aisle and kitty-cornered from his mom and sister. Of course this caused him to throw a screaming hissy fit. I offered to change seats so that he could sit with his mom and sister and I’d take his seat.

              Several people on the plane complimented me on my seamingly selfless gesture. I didn’t tell them that in reality, I just didn’t want to have to listen to the little shitstain scream the entire flight. I guess you could say that I valued the relative peace and quiet more than the minor inconvenience of changing seats.

        3. I disagree– I don’t think people enter into exchanges that aren’t self-serving, it’s just that we all have very different tastes.

          We all know chronic codependents who repeatedly get into relationships where they assume the role of “nurturer/ caretaker/ doormat”. What appears a zero-sum-game to you and me ain’t necessarily so for those who crave that particular role.

        4. People voluntarily enter into exchanges all the time for reasons that are not self-serving.

          You need to dig a little deeper to find the self serving factor.

      2. And if some find the word “selfish” to be toxic, it’s not even necessary to use it.

        The essence of an exchange is that both parties are declaring their satisfaction.

        Sandel’s entire problem is that he somehow finds it wrong that I am satisfied to pay extra to go on the express line at Six Flags, and Six Flags is satisfied with the price I’ve paid. He’s angry that we’ve reached an accomodation we both like. And his reason for being angry is no more noble than endorsing the simple resentment of third parties outside our exchange.

        Because that’s his real objection. I’m happy; Six Flags is happy. Who’s not happy? People outside our exchange. They’re the selfish ones. They want Six Flags to give them something (the lead spots in line) for nothing, when they can give it to me for money. They expect Six Flags to lose out for their benefit. Aren’t they clearly the selfish ones? An unselfish person, a fucking adult, would say to themselves, “Well, those other people in the express line paid more, and I came here expecting to stand in line, and I’m having fun here, so I have nothing to complain about.”

        This actually ties into my discussion with Tony yesterday about how empathy is not equal to sympathy. Because I’m convinced if you gave me perfect access to the thoughts and feelings of someone pissed off about the express line at Six Flags, I’d dislike that person and not want to help them or be in a community with them.

        1. I’d dislike that person and not want to help them or be in a community with them.

          Thank God the government is here to stick a gun to your head and force you to help them

            1. that’s sweet, although a blue blob asking me if threats of violence against peaceful people is “acceptable” kinda pissed me off. It’s not about using the correct fork but whether it’s right or wrong, Miss Blobby!

              Mini-rant over

        2. I think the Six Flags line thing is absurdly telling. He should have come up with another example just so it wasn’t so obvious he was angry that everyone didn’t have to wait just because some people didn’t want to pay to avoid it.

          But I guess it would be pretty hard to come up with such an example.

          1. Right. His kidney donation example, while wrongly reasoned, at least has the urgency of life and death (or at least health) attached to it.

            Six Flags just exposes the pettiness.

        3. The biggest flaw in Sandel’s plan is that he is trying to substitute his values for someone else’s values.

          1. Isn’t that pretty much the flaw in every statist prick’s plan?

    2. A market is not “goods exchanged for money”. A market is voluntary exchange of “whatever I want” for “whatever my counterparty wants”, when we can reach agreement.

      Not really, and I used to make the same point. You may insist that that’s what you mean when you talk about a “market,” but that’s not how it is conventionally used. More importantly, that is not how Sandel or Palmer use it. If you disagree and think that market transactions encompass all voluntary exchanges (which makes the term so broad as to be mostly meaningless), then just substitute “monetary exchanges” any time they say “the market.” You’re using semantics to evade the actual discussion.

      1. No, I’m not.

        Sandel insists that there is something fundamentally different about monetary exchanges vs. non-monetary relationships.

        To make this assertion, he lumps many voluntary exchanges in with coercion-based relationships.

        I am properly countering that all voluntary exchanges belong in the same set.

        1. You have the set of voluntary exchanges, and within that set you have monetary exchanges. They can and ought to be distinguished.

          From this and other commentaries on his book, I assume that Sandel does not have such harsh words for a gift economy. It’s clear he’s fine with people exchanging a kidney for something in return, just not money.

          1. They can and ought to be distinguished.

            I agree can be. I don’t see why they should be at all.

            It seems to me Sandel is trying to obfuscate the argument by excluding non-monetary transactions, not that fluffy is avoiding a meaningful argument through unnecessary semantic unification.

            1. I don’t see why they should be at all.

              For the purpose of economic theory, I’d think the reason is obvious.

              And Sandel can’t obfuscate his argument by… making his argument. He’s focusing on monetary exchanges, arguing that they are a special breed with corrosive effects. You can argue that he’s wrong about that, but you can’t say, “What about these other kinds of exchanges?” If he objects to “friendship as a market transaction,” it’s a non-sequitur to merely point out that friendship involves other kinds of exchanges.

              1. I am definitely having purely semantic objections, which are argument clouding. If he wants to define “market” as “only exchanges involving money”, then I reject his definition. I also object to the implicit way he does it with his two part title.

                I’ll have to think about it a little more to see if I have any other problems. But he still seems like he is saying “since I don’t like some voluntary interactions, but refuse to consider them all, lets start doing some involuntary ones”. So, it seems like voluntary vs involuntary is the key distinction that matters.

          2. Ah, then he believes money is the root of evil, or something like that.

  4. BTW, speaking of exchanges, I’d like to offer a Libertarian Parenting Progress Report.

    Somebody posted a link a good while back about a study that was done that showed that kids who are paid to do chores end up not doing chores when they get older, because they expect to get paid and just go out and get jobs as soon as they can. Naturally all of us here were incredulous that the study authors viewed this as a bad thing. “So you’re telling me there’s something I can do that will program my kids to go out and get a fucking job as soon as they can? Sign me up!” was a typical reaction.

    In order to bring the beauty of the market to parenting, I decided to set up a system where I gave my kid credits for behaviors I wanted to encourage, and would take those credits away for behaviors I didn’t like. The credits, when accumulated, could be exchanged for things he liked to do. We use poker chips to keep track of the credits. (OK, so I modified the basic idea from AM Links with the Harry Potter points system.) And I have to tell you: it works fucking perfectly.

    It’s also a nice little lesson in markets, because we have a whole list of credits-earning activities and things it can buy, and I can observe the “price signal” phenomenon working, as my kid preferentially chooses the chores with the lowest effort/reward ratio and undertakes them in ascending order to rapidly accumulate the most chips with the least effort.


    1. Squandering all that free labor?! I’m about ready to revoke your monocle.

    2. Extend that system to the wife.

      1. Ah, if only…

    3. folks like the study authors ignore or fail to grasp that kids respond to reward/punishment as well as anyone, often better than adults. Most kids who turn out with a work ethic grew up in the type environment you describe.

    4. Are you worried about your kids just looking at work as nothing more than a paycheck though, and not deriving any real satisfaction from what they are doing? That is the boat I am in… every day is a fucking chore and can’t be over soon enough.

      1. I don’t know. That’s my honest answer.

        I tend to doubt that learning to do things “because Dad bitches if I don’t do them” will impart any better lessons than a rewards system.

        I think the “inner satisfaction” thing is not really directly under my control, in any way I can think of. He’ll either like what he does or he won’t. I’m just trying to make it so that he gets through college without fucking up, so that he has the most choices in life and the best chance of lucking into doing something he likes.

        That’s part of why “The reward approach stops working after 10th grade!” and other similar analyses don’t faze me. If I can just manage to control the little bastard until 10th grade, I’m good with that.

        1. It seems like an odd thing to faze anyone. I mean, after 10th grade, there are only two years left for you to even try to control him. “Oh, this approach only works for 88.9% of the time your child will be a minor” doesn’t strike me as a very strong objection. Ultimately, the goal has got to be to let go at some point…

    5. How many credits does a “my first monocle” run?

    6. Fluffy, if you are willing, I would love to see the price list.

      1. Here are the things he can buy:

        Happy Meal 18
        Wii 1 Hour 3
        PlayStation 1 Hour 3
        Whiffleball 3 Innings 3
        Football 1/2 hour 3
        Go to Store to Buy Car (His Money) 6
        Go to Store to Buy Car (Dad’s Money) 12
        Wii Golf vs. Mom or Dad 3
        Wii Bowling vs. Mom or Dad 3
        Computer 1 Hour 2

        Here are the ways to earn chips and the limits on how often he can do them:

        1 Mango 1/2 Hour Limit 1 per day
        1 Read 1 Book Limit 3 per day
        1 Math Problems 75% Score or Better Limit 2 per day
        1 Pick Up Toys and Put Upstairs Limit 1 per day
        1 Make Bed Limit 1 per day
        1 Dusting Limit 1 per day
        1 Color Flag and Learn 2 Country Facts Limit 1 per day
        1 Make Table for Dinner Limit 1 per day
        1 Do Homework Before Dinner Limit 1 per day
        3 Sleep in own bed all night alone Limit 3 per day
        1 Be a Good Sport No limit
        1 Bring Laundry Downstairs Limit 1 per day
        1 Put Dirty Dishes in Kitchen Once for lunch and once for dinner
        2 Bring home reward sticker from school

        Here are the ways to lose chips:

        Be a Bad Sport 1
        Whining 1
        Yelling at Game 1
        Too Many Kisses for Cat 1
        Locking people out of house 8
        Kicking or Hitting 4
        General Naughtiness 1
        Crowding 1

        The funny thing is the sheer NUMBER of economics lessons this teaches. For example, the preferential pricing of using the computer vs. playing either video game has created a Replacement Effect where he searches for free games to play on the computer and the Wii sits unused. Or how I initially mispriced Whiffleball and was spending all my evenings outside.

        1. Too many kisses for cat?

          1. Yeah, it’s a big problem.

            But the pricing penalty has brought it under control.

            Oh, speaking of the penalties, the penalties clearly taught ME the lesson of moral hazard, because initially there was no way to have negative chips.

            So if he had 0 chips, the penalty fees didn’t apply.

            This incented him to spend his chips as soon as he earned them, and not save for the larger rewards. If he had no chips, he couldn’t be punished.

            Seriously, he could already be CEO of Citibank.

    7. This is exactly how good special education classes are managed, with a token economy.

      I don’t mean that to be pejorative. Research shows this is the most effective way to manage behavior.

    8. My kid just turned two, so I haven’t put him through any program. Well, probably wont, he seems to do fine discovering the world on his own, be it the huge yard or his Ipad.

      However, he has learned to call daddy’s bottle cap collection ‘future money.’

      1. The cutest is when he is playing Doom 2 on it. He likes going around slicing imps with what he calls, ‘chainsaw of justice.’ I don’t even know where he picked up that phrase from.

  5. “What Money Can’t Buy will titillate…”

    Doubtful. I would not make it half way through the first chapter before cursing and throwing this run-of-the-mill socialist trash into my fireplace. Thank you Mr. Palmer for suffering through that garbage so that we dont have to. These guys are all the same with the fuzzy on the details, romaticized bullshit, substituting their personal intuition and feelings for actual thought. It always leads to the same place; destruction of private property rights, diminishment of the individual. In other words theft and slavery.

    Sandel should get a job picking up poop at the zoo instead of dishing it out at harvard. What a load.

    1. You beat me to it, Suthenboy.

      After reading Tom’s synopsis/critique, I found myself wondering how *256 pages* of this stuff could possibly be squeezed out.

      1. Increase the font size and margins. Didn’t you learn that trick in college? 🙂

        1. “Profusely illustrated!”

  6. I bet douchey books didn’t make it on the list of things we shouldn’t pay for. So it seems Sandel thinks it’s ok for people to pay for his book, but he doesn’t want to have to pay for things he wants.

  7. Those TV preachers on TBN seem to do a good job combining ‘morality’ and big money. Wish I had a bunch of suckers who constantly gave me cash because I convinced them it will guarantee a place in heaven.

  8. Sandel is surrounded by market exchanges that enhance his life, but all he can see is corruption, corrosion, and degradation. Never is the price system praised for displacing an inferior moral norm. It seems that whatever form of interaction is displaced by a price system must be better, higher, nobler. Au contraire! Markets punish and eventually push out tribalism, confessionalism, racism, cronyism, and many other traditions. And good riddance.

    But, Sandel, as America’s number one voice for Communitarianism, doesn’t want to “push out tribalism, confessionalism, racism, cronyism,” et al.

    1. Those fuckwits think they can keep renaming communism and we will be clueless as to what they are about. Communitarianism? Commonism? Liberal democrats? It is as lame a disguise as Clark Kent’s glasses. It is the same old shit; a failed philosophy.

      I am guessing his fascination with lines is nostalgia for the lines the eastern europeans and russians had to wait in to get toilet paper and shoes during the glory years of the soviet union. What a moron.

      As has been pointed out here before, and is pointed out by the author, what these people are really attacking is commodification. Commodification is the surest path to prosperity and prosperity is the enemy of the tyrant.

      1. Communitarianism? Commonism? Liberal democrats?

        Moderate Republicans?

  9. That Sandel is really daft, having people wait in queues is a sign of a failed society, not the ideal. In Eastern Europe people all had to stand in queues to get the most basic goods, I doubt any of them were thinking how great this “equaliser” of society was.

  10. What can’t violence and coercive threats get the political class?

    Every time these power-worshiping buttinskies start bad-mouthing markets and freely-negotiated contracts, mutually-beneficial exchange and generally letting people do what they freely want to do together, they should be called on their excuse-making for violence, their thrill of coercion, their prudish, holier-and-smugger-than-thou implicit threats of state force, and their general sociopathological desire to force others to conform to their sick do-goodism.

    In this entire review I do not see the word violence, or coercion, or force. Why give this guy any respect at all? Why play the game with this type of mewling whiner, who – while he might not say it explicitly – is an objectively a thug-state apologist?

    And, futhermore, goddammit, sandel comes across as at heart one of those psycho-fucked, comfortable academic lickspittles who yearn so for some wise tribal chief to return us to a united family and give them the respect and love they so deserve?

    1. sandel comes across as at heart one of those psycho-fucked, comfortable academic lickspittles who yearn so for some wise tribal chief to return us to a united family and give them the respect and love they so deserve?

      As I mentioned before, Sandel explicitly argues for this, as he identifies as a Communitarianist.

  11. There’s a serious danger with such intuitive collectivism: It disguises restatements of one’s own unacknowledged and unexamined prejudices as a philosophical investigation and then imposes them on everyone else.

    I’ve never figured out how imposing one’s ideas through force is morally superior to voluntary cooperation.

    I suppose Tony would say that voluntary cooperation is itself an imposition of force, because it is an imposition upon those who would use force to get their way.

    Thinking like that makes my head hurt.

    1. I’ve never figured out how imposing one’s ideas through force is morally superior to voluntary cooperation.

      and that’s why the re-education camp has a spot reserved for you. Ve haf vays.

    2. I suppose Tony would say that voluntary cooperation is itself an imposition of force, because it is an imposition upon those who would use force to get their way.

      He would, but not in those words, because he cannot conceive that that is what he is doing. Sort of like how my goldfish can’t conceive partial differential equations.

      1. Holy shit. Same old same old crap they always trot out. Fair? Is it fair that motherfucker breathes good air the rest of us could be using?

        1. I like how his examples of markets were prisons, voting, and citizenship.

  12. Markets?by which he means the use of prices expressed in money?lead inevitably to commodification, which “corrupts” and “crowds out” the moral norms that should otherwise guide our interactions.

    Damn straight, the love and pursuit of money is so corrosive that it overrides things like nationalism, racial bigotry and hatred of homosexuals and what self respecting leftist wants to reduce those!

  13. Thank you Tom Palmer for reading this tripe so that I don’t have to. You’re doing God’s* work.

    *Unless you’re an atheist, in which case you’re doing science’s work.

  14. They really do seem to know what is going on over there. WOw.

    1. Too vague. Try again, anonobot.

  15. If he’s so against “markets”, why is he selling his book? Shouldn’t he impart his great wisdom to “us” for free? What would he do if “we” decide this shit is idiotic and immoral for him to sell for $27!

  16. What a stupid title. What’s next? The Moral Limits of Cheese? The Moral Limits of Playing the Flute? Kids go hungry, meanwhile hundreds are cruelly practicing their flute playing. Ban flutes!

  17. There is one minor quibble (maybe not a quibble but more like a point of discussion) that I have with Palmer’s critique of Sandel: the whole queue thing. It seems to me that a queue is, per se, a sign of demand; people are willing to wait in line for something and in is case TIME stands in for MONEY, i.e. they’re spending their time waiting in the line rather than exchanging money to bypass the line. In this case, the queue is effectively the price signal, transmitting to the offerer of the good/service what their product is worth in terms of time spent in line by the patron. Not as thorough or comprehensive as a monetary price signal, but it conveys information nonetheless.

  18. A money exchange is simply an energy transfer. It doesn’t cheapen anything; in fact, if I purchase someone from you I may possibly value it more than if you gave it to me freely out of your wonderful little heart. And I might also feel bad if I felt you didn’t get anything in return. There is nothing wrong with being paid for things, and it can make it a lot easier for both parties to feel like the transaction was equitable.

    At the same time I prefer, at the family level, not to mix an economic relationship with a social relationship. If my husband cleans out the sink to make my life easier and I hand him some money, he’d be insulted (and we’re not going to discuss alternate forms of payment here). I’d like my kids to help out around the house simply because we all live there and we need to help out, and I want them to experience doing something for the good of a social unit, not because they’re being paid (though I don’t rule out also paying them for additional work).

    I don’t want to get into a debate about altruism or enlightenment, but I don’t believe that this kind of functional social unit works well on a level much bigger than a family, and therefore the market is more effective and necessary.

  19. i in fact be thankful for coming here everyday to see what’s new on your website, and i already told my contacts to do the same

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