By Cansu Canca
Last Wednesday, I went to Michael Sandel’s lecture introducing his new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. His talk focused on two main arguments: There should be certain norms that govern our relationship with certain goods; and markets corrupt these norms.
I think Sandel’s position fails in three respects:
- The book does not provide a theoretical basis for these norms. In other words, the book does not explain where these norms come from, which norms are suitable for which relationships, or how they are violated.
- Given the lack of theoretical basis, the book cannot identify a stopping point for its suggestion to preserve and cultivate virtues related to these norms. There would seem to be many more activities to which the book’s suggestions could be expanded, yet even Sandel does not seem willing to go there. To the extent one accepts it, Sandel’s argument thus proves too much.
- Instead of presenting a theoretical basis, the book proceeds by analogy. But the analogies seem unconvincing in that their source and target situations seem materially different.
Let me flesh out these points.