Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Feature Book Review: What Money Can't Buy (The Moral Limits of Markets) Michael J. Sandel それをお金で買いますか: マイケル・サンデル

Financial markets have been around for centuries, but is everything for sale? If it is, should it be? What ethics are missing from today's marketplace if any? Have we gone too far, or not far enough? If we pay US$2 per book to poor students, to encourage education in poor regions of the US nation, is that worthwhile? Is it moral and does it reflect a society's values correctly? Are we using monetary incentives in a wrong way? Does a monetary incentive help to "jumpstart" students into a good reading habit? 

Alternatively, does it corrupt the student into thinking that all effort needs to be paid for. After all, that is how the real world works, even if the reading done had no quality of learning checked in the process. There are many grey zones where financial incentives are not always productive. Many kinds of companies and consumers enjoy purchasing products and services, but are they always worthwhile to even be offered in the market? The author certainly makes you think about the mentality needed for a long term healthy market economy. Corruption and exploitation may need a market filter of some kind, but who would or should be in charge of this regulation question?

If a citizen is jailed for an offense in Santa Ana, California, nonviolent offenders can accept the prison cell, or upgrade for US$82 a night. In some US cities, to encourage energy conservation and lower traffic congestion, car pool lanes were offered. A lone driver is legally not allowed to drive in a faster car pool lane, but if he or she pays a solo driving fee for US$8 each way, that driver can then use that special lane. Many couples who want a child, can have one of their own traditionally, but there are new choices. If they use a test tube approach, a third party surrogate mother can actually carry the pregnancy for a fee. Women in India, are willing to do so for US$6,250 for the 9+ month ordeal. Is this a valid service in the market today?

How does a citizen come to terms with such choices? How exactly should we see these choices? How should a good citizen make the right choice? Is there a set of concepts that all choices must pass in order to be considered OK in any market? There is a mismatch in some markets. Many people suffer from kidney problems and need a donor kidney. Many people die every year waiting for a kidney that never comes. Should a person who really needs a kidney be allowed to buy one? What is wrong with that market if there is a clear need? Again, would the seller of this kidney be doing so freely? A portion of these sellers may be poor and lack other economic options. Would they then be just exploited? Should we protect these poor people or allow them to benefit economically?

What is human dignity? Is it worth saving? What should not be allowed in the market place? Does the market have morals? Should it have moral limits? This book asks questions that cannot easily be answered yes or no. It makes you think and confront why you think one way or another. Selling a kidney, selling prostitution or even selling the right to kill a death row prisoner for a thrill, all have moral questions. Not all of these goods or services are best exchanged in markets today for any price. There are limits to what should be bought or sold.

The Top 3 Takeaways from this book that really impact any reader are:

1) There is a lot to learn about how difficult inequality is in regard to economic opportunities. Is the market really about free will when make economic choices in markets? Some people are not really choosing freely when exploitation is driving sales or purchases.

2) The impact of integrity on economics is important. When does a financial incentive become a bribe? When is a bribe not appropriate in the market place? Civic responsibility has no price, and it cannot be replaced by any financial incentive.

3) The markets that we use and benefit from have limits. Markets for tangible goods may be inert, but when services or exchanges of value like education take place, then moral questions impact those markets. The love of learning has no price and cannot be bought.

Ordinary people need to be part of any economy, but morals and values have a place. Markets do not always justify their prices. Market prices can actually replace difficult thinking or debate about more difficult questions. This lack of energy to consider difficult questions, is now part of today's global politics. It may be a reason to better understand why the world is now moving into a growing populist wave. No matter what your opinions are, this book certainly makes you think is great new ways. Highly recommended!

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