Harvard professor Michael Sandel on whether there’s something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale.


  • Michael Sandel Professor of government, Harvard University.

Read An Excerpt

Excerpt from “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets” by Michael Sandel. Copyright 2012 by Michael Sandel. Reprinted here by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.


  • 11:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Michael Sandel is an acclaimed political philosopher who has taken on one of the great moral dilemmas of our time, what should and should not be for sale. He asks if we want to live in a world where everything has a price, including our bodies and our values.

  • 11:07:18

    MS. DIANE REHMMichael Sandel is the author of a new book titled "What Money Can't Buy." He is a professor of government at Harvard University. He joins me in the studio to talk about morals in the marketplace. I hope you'll join us as well. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, sir, it's good to have you here.

  • 11:07:53

    MR. MICHAEL SANDELThanks, Diane, it's good to be back.

  • 11:07:55

    REHMI was thinking, as I was reading your book over the weekend, all about the Thanksgiving rush...

  • 11:08:06


  • 11:08:06

    REHM...and how marketers, advertisers had not only taken the Friday after Thanksgiving, but have now taken Thanksgiving evening itself. They bought it from us. They have bought our time, but only if we want to sell it.

  • 11:08:36

    SANDELWell, it's interesting that you raise that example because what the book tries to show is that over the past three decades, almost without realizing it, we've drifted into this condition. We've shifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society and that's really what you're describing with this example of Thanksgiving being claimed and encroached upon by buying and selling and market values.

  • 11:09:09

    SANDELThere's a big difference between a market economy, which is a tool for organizing productive activity, a valuable and effective tool, and a market society. A market society is a place where everything is up for sale. It's a place where market values and market thinking reach into just about every sphere of life. And what you've just mentioned now is one small example of this pervasive tendency over the past three decades or so.

  • 11:09:40

    REHMYou use an example in the book of a body billboard.

  • 11:09:49

    SANDELYes, this is one of the most extreme forms of advertising...

  • 11:09:54


  • 11:09:54

    SANDEL...I've ever encountered. It turns out now in the last couple of decades, advertisers are looking for novel places to seize the attention of potential consumers and so they've resorted to body billboards. They pay people, sometimes college students, sometimes adults, who are willing to sell advertising space on their bodies, their foreheads, for example.

  • 11:10:22

    SANDELThere was one woman who needed money to -- a single mother. She needed money for the education of her child and she actually auctioned off space on her forehead for a permanent tattoo and the winning bid came, unfortunately, from an online casino.

  • 11:10:43


  • 11:10:43

    SANDELShe got -- how much do you think she got for it?

  • 11:10:48

    REHMWell, I happen to know so I won't say.

  • 11:10:51

    SANDELOh, you've already read the book. It's $10,000.

  • 11:10:53


  • 11:10:53

    SANDELBut now, for the rest of her life, she has a tattoo for a casino on her forehead.

  • 11:10:59


  • 11:10:59

    SANDELA sign of the times, one advertising executive was quoted as saying, it's actually an interesting idea. It's sort of like the old sandwich board, but a bit more organic.

  • 11:11:14

    REHMBut you know, again, as I was thinking about all this, it occurred to me that people in desperate need...

  • 11:11:24


  • 11:11:24

    REHM...have sold, for example, their organs, a kidney, for example, where we only need one or a portion of a liver, where we only need a small portion of a liver. What's wrong with that, if one needs the money desperately and if not out of goodwill, but out of a need for money...

  • 11:11:56


  • 11:11:56

    REHM...one chooses to sell?

  • 11:11:58

    SANDELAnd the argument is, so long as there's free consent, voluntary exchange, it is fine. But I think it may not be fine for, well, for two reasons. One of them is the one that you just mentioned, Diane, the desperate circumstances argument. There are many exchanges that may take place, including for a kidney, that we may describe as a voluntary exchange, but that may not be all that voluntary.

  • 11:12:35

    SANDELIf the person who sells the kidney is, let's say, a starving Indian peasant who desperately needs the money to provide an education or, for that matter, food for his or her family. So one of the arguments against buying and selling certain things, at least under certain circumstances, is what you, I think, rightly labeled the desperate need argument or the coercion argument, the idea that not all exchanges are as free as they may seem if they are actually under pressure of economic necessity.

  • 11:13:11

    SANDELSo that's one question we always have to ask before deciding whether, well, say kidneys, should be bought and sold. It's illegal in the U.S., but there is an enormous black market globally in organs for transplantation. Similar questions arise with regard to the market in paid pregnancy, commercial surrogacy.

  • 11:13:34

    SANDELIndia has, to try to create employment, legalized commercial surrogacy and so people from the West come. It's less expensive to do in India. The fees are lower than they are in the West. This raises similar questions. So one argument is about coercion, is there coercion implicit in desperate need?

  • 11:13:59

    SANDELThe other argument has to do with degradation or corruption. Is there something even beyond the matter of coercion that makes us or should make us uneasy about putting certain goods up for sale?

  • 11:14:11

    REHMHow did we get to where we are now?

  • 11:14:17

    SANDELI think it goes back to the early '80s. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher came in arguing explicitly that markets, not government, were the primary instruments for achieving the public good. But what was interesting is even after they passed from the political scene, their successors of the center left, Tony Blair in new Labor in Britain, Bill Clinton in the United States, they moderated, but consolidated the market face.

  • 11:14:51

    SANDELThey never really challenged it at the level of principle and we haven't really had, since the '80s, an open, morally-robust debate about where markets serve the public good and where they don't belong. I think this is the great missing debate in American politics. What should be the role of money and markets in allocating the good things in life? And we haven't had that debate.

  • 11:15:20

    REHMHow would you construct that debate?

  • 11:15:25

    SANDELI would say we have to look -- and this is what makes it challenging. We have to look good by good, case by case, social practice by social practice and ask, will using markets to allocate this good corrupt or displace some non-market values worth caring about?

  • 11:15:44

    SANDELLet me give you an example. At amusement parks, when I was a kid, you went to an amusement park and part of the experience was waiting on long lines for the popular rides. Today, in most amusement parks, if you're willing to pay, you can jump to the head of the line. It's the fast-track society.

  • 11:16:07

    REHMAirplanes as well.

  • 11:16:09

    SANDELWe see it at the airport. And here in Washington, D.C., I'm told that there are line-standing companies that enable people who want to attend Congressional Hearings, but don't want to stand in a long line overnight, to pay a company. The company will hire homeless people or others, will pay them an hourly wage, to stand in that line maybe for days if it's popular and then the lobbyist or whoever has paid the company can take his or her place at the head of the line just before the hearing begins.

  • 11:16:46

    SANDELNow the question here is, in amusement parks, we may say, well, it's not so morally grave who gets first onto the ride, but what about when it's essentially auctioning access to representative government? This takes us back to a question about corruption and degradation, in this case, of a good, the good being representative government accessible equally to all citizens.

  • 11:17:16

    REHMSo you, I presume, are not against a free market totally?

  • 11:17:25

    SANDELNo, no. The book is not a book against market economies. And that's why I want to distinguish between market economies and market societies and that's a distinction that we often overlook. Market economies are very good at organizing the production and distribution of material goods, cars, toasters, flat-screen televisions.

  • 11:17:55

    SANDELBut the hard, ethical questions arise and these are the questions we've not really been debating when we move beyond the material domain, beyond flat-screen televisions to teaching and learning, education, the role of markets in education, criminal justice.

  • 11:18:11

    SANDELDid you know that in California there are some places where if you're sentenced to a jail term and don't like the standard accommodation, you can buy a prison cell upgrade? Criminal justice is another area. Health is yet another.

  • 11:18:27

    REHMMichael Sandel of Harvard University, his newest book is titled "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets." We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk more, take your calls. I look forward to speaking with you.

  • 11:20:06

    REHMWelcome back. If you just joined us, Michael Sandel, who is professor of government at Harvard University, has written a new book. It's titled, "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Market." And as he has said earlier in the program, what he's talking about is the selling somehow of society itself. The idea that everything, not only goods, not only services, but everything is up for sale.

  • 11:20:52

    REHMAnd here's an email from Dave in Ann Arbor, MI who says: I wonder what your guest would think about my desire to sell my vote.

  • 11:21:07

    SANDELWhat I would like to ask Dave is, how much is he asking for it? We don't allow -- and this is an interesting about vote selling. We do still observe some limitations on free market principles. And the vote is one. We spoke about kidneys before. You can't buy and sell a kidney legally. You can't buy and sell a vote legally, although many at the campaign finance practices that we currently have, thanks in part to the Citizens United case, come pretty close to creating markets in votes.

  • 11:21:50

    SANDELJury duty, we don't -- if you're called to jury duty and it's inconvenient, you don't want to go, we don't let you hire a substitute to take your place. And I think the reason we don't and the reason we don't allow Dave to sell his vote is that we don't consider the vote a piece of private property, we consider it a civic duty and a public responsibility. But that suggests that, in general, any good that we would put up for sale, of any good we have to ask, what is the character and meaning of that?

  • 11:22:23

    SANDELAnd in the case of votes, we'd have to make healthy argument unless we want to let Dave put his vote up for sale that the vote is a civic duty, it's not just a thing.

  • 11:22:33

    REHMHowever, he does go on to say: Billions of dollars changed hands during the recent election to influence my vote.

  • 11:22:43

    SANDELYes. Yeah.

  • 11:22:44

    REHMAnd all I ended up with, he says, was a lot of junk mail and bad commercials on TV.

  • 11:22:53

    SANDELWhat's interesting is that if you apply rigorously the principle that many economists articulate, the principle of efficiency, is there a willing buyer? Is there a willing seller? If you allow them to come together, both parties are better off. Why not allow it? That principle of economic efficiency would suggest that maybe we should have an outright, not only an implicit market in votes but it's that principle, that economistic way of looking at civic life and other goods that I'm trying to challenge in the book.

  • 11:23:29

    REHMLet's talk about children and the fact that I'm sure many parents out there do give gifts of money to their children for good grades. What do you think of that?

  • 11:23:49

    SANDELI think it's questionable. In fact, there are many school districts that are now trying experiments to improve academic achievement by paying children in schools, students cash to get good grades or to get high scores on standardized tests, sometimes for good attendance. Some of this has been tried in Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago have also tried it. In Dallas, they offer second graders two dollars for each book they read.

  • 11:24:24

    SANDELNow, you might say, well, it all depends on whether it works. And in fact, these experiments so far the results have been mixed. It doesn't seem to increase grades, paying $50 for an A. But in Dallas, the two dollars to the young children...

  • 11:24:42

    REHMFor the book.

  • 11:24:43

    SANDELThey did read more books. But they also began reading shorter books. But the real question is, the real reason to hesitate is, what lesson does the money teach? And it may teach -- even if it gets the kids to read more books or they get better test scores, it may teach that reading and learning are chores to be done for money. And if that's the lesson they learn, then reading for the love of it or learning for its intrinsic contribution to making a good person and a good citizen may be crowded out.

  • 11:25:25

    SANDELAnd that's why it's a very difficult question that can't be analyzed only with the economist's tool of efficiency.

  • 11:25:34

    REHMWhat about the parent and the child?

  • 11:25:39

    SANDELWell, there are two -- they're, as parents, we are in the role of trying to cultivate certain attitudes in our children. And so I suppose it depends what the parent is paying for. A friend of mine pays his young children one dollar for each thank you note they write. If someone takes them out to dinner or gives them a gift. Now, I've actually received some of these thank you notes, and I can tell by reading them that they were written under a certain pressure.

  • 11:26:11

    SANDELMy wife and I worry about how these kids will turn out. Now it could turn out for the best, but it could be that by being paid to write thank you notes they get in the habit of it.

  • 11:26:21

    REHMIn the habit, right.

  • 11:26:22

    SANDELAnd they eventually learn the real reason for thank you notes, which is to express gratitude. The same could happen with the kids and the books. They may be paid to read books and that may kick start a good habit and they may learn to love reading later. That's possible. But there is the danger that the higher value, the higher way of valuing reading books or writing thank you notes may be crowded out.

  • 11:26:51

    SANDELIn which case, the gratitude will not be learned by these kids when they're no longer paid for thank you notes, and the kids may no longer read books or love learning when they're no longer paid. That's the danger. So it's a much more complex question about the attitudes and values we want to cultivate. And we have to ask, what do financial incentives do to those attitudes? What lesson does money teach?

  • 11:27:19

    SANDELBecause markets teach. They aren't neutral instruments, as many of my economist friends assume. Sometimes they touch and taint the goods being exchanged. They change their meaning. They change the attitudes, especially when we move outside the domain of purely material goods.

  • 11:27:38

    REHMWhat about advertisers moving into classrooms? What about the Coca-Cola machines that are right there for students to make use of and then Coke or some other corporation gives money to help that school perhaps purchase books?

  • 11:28:06

    SANDELRight. And it's very tempting to many school districts, scrap for cash. There's no denying it. Many school districts around the country are going through debates about whether to allow ads on school buses. I worry more about ads in the classroom, including this channel one that hyped up a news program with commercial ads into many, many schoolrooms around the country.

  • 11:28:33

    SANDELI think the real danger -- quite apart from the fact that they may drink too much Coca-Cola -- the real danger is that the commercial advertising is competing for the attention of the students. At the heart of teaching, I think, is capturing the attention and the imagination of students and doing something important with it. Ultimately, the purpose of schools, apart from the specific subjects it teaches, is to cultivate citizenship not to provide basic training for a consumer society.

  • 11:29:14

    SANDELAnd so the question we need to ask about ads in schools is, will it actually turn schools into places where students learn the values of a consumer society?

  • 11:29:26

    REHMTo consume. Yeah.

  • 11:29:28

    SANDELExactly, rather than to be citizens.

  • 11:29:32

    REHMWell, of course you're talking primarily about primary and secondary schools. What about a university like Harvard? Is Harvard immune from those kinds of advertising or placement of strategic ads to influence young people?

  • 11:30:01

    SANDELI think higher education is not immune from these pressure, though they take a different form in higher education, having to do with, for example, sponsored research. Now, many universities, to increase sponsored research beyond what can be provided by the government, especially as funds are shrinking for government-sponsored research, are entering into partnerships with companies, with corporations who will bring basic research to market.

  • 11:30:35

    SANDELAnd sometimes these can be perfectly wholesome partnerships, but they do contain a very real danger, along the lines that we have been discussing, that the fundamental purpose of the research and the agenda of scientific inquiry will be bent to serve a commercial purpose rather than to promote knowledge and learning and basic scientific understanding.

  • 11:31:00

    REHMAll right. Let's move out to the football field and the naming rights...

  • 11:31:07


  • 11:31:07

    REHM...for a football field. How is that going to do harm or would it do harm to have, you know, a stadium named after a corporation?

  • 11:31:22

    SANDELWell, a great many stadia are now named after corporations.

  • 11:31:26


  • 11:31:27

    SANDELAnd not only in the NFL and in Major League Baseball, but increasingly in college sports.

  • 11:31:33


  • 11:31:34

    SANDELAnd it raises now, on the face of it, it seems like a reasonable bargain. More money for the athletic program or maybe even the athletic program in some places subsidizes financial aid or the libraries. So it's very tempting. And by itself, it seems innocuous enough. What difference does it make whether we watch our favorite team in a stadium named for a corporation or for some local hero?

  • 11:32:05

    SANDELBut when it begins -- when naming rights begin to blanket the landscape of our lives, they begin corporate values and commercial values begin to lay claim to the common spaces and the civic spaces where we gather. And this, I think, can be corrosive when it's written large, corrosive of commonality, corrosive of the public character of the public realm. And we often take this for granted and we don't know notice it until it's gone pretty far.

  • 11:32:44

    SANDELBut when naming rights extend not only to sports stadiums but to national -- to state parks, which some states are doing, to beaches. Some beaches in California now have corporate naming rights. Even the swimsuits of the lifeguards in some California beaches are branded. Fire hydrants, fire trucks, police cars, eventually the creeping commercialism, the naming rights begins to corrode the public character of our common life and our civic landscape.

  • 11:33:23

    REHMMichael Sandel, he is the author of the book titled, "What Money Can't Buy." He's professor of government at Harvard University, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have a great many callers. I'm going to open the phones now. First to Durham, NC. Good morning, Roslyn. You're on the air.

  • 11:33:52

    ROSLYNHello, Diane. My question is, you talk -- what I hear is coming from a very middle class and upper middle class perspective. When a house is built, we don't expect it to be done by volunteers, except through Habitat and these are choices. My choices had -- gave kidney. She gave it freely and did not charge. The doctor was paid. Why is it any less ethical for someone who is struggling, suffering with a single child or incredible college expenses to be paid as the doctor is paid for his services to give up part of the kidney or part of a liver? Thank you.

  • 11:34:44

    SANDELThat's a good question and a fair question that Roslyn asks. I think there are at least two questions that we would have to ask. One is the one we discussed about whether it's done under such desperate circumstances, but the choice, the voluntary character of it is not meaningful but, in effect, coerced. Now that may not be true in all cases. But there is another serious moral question we have to ask, which is about attitudes.

  • 11:35:13

    SANDELWill this encourage us as a society and as individuals to come to view as bodies as collection of spare parts and is this intention, with a certain view of human dignity? So in all of these debates about controversial uses of markets, there is the coercion question. Is it really free? And there's also the question of corruption and degradation. Is there something degrading or contrary to human dignity if we come as a society to view our bodies as instruments of profit and use.

  • 11:35:48

    SANDELI don't suggest it's an easy question in the kidney case, because on the other hand, as Roslyn points out, there can be great -- there can be lives saved. So it's -- morally, it's a weighty question. What I'm mainly arguing is that we too often overlook the moral costs of markets and of market thinking. And we need to be willing to engage directly with these questions about what attitudes and values about our bodies or about our schools or about our children and families do we want to cultivate in (word?) ?

  • 11:36:22

    REHMAnd, of course, she was talking about a donated kidney.

  • 11:36:27


  • 11:36:28

    REHMAnd then she talked about the thousands of dollars the doctor charges to make sure that that operation is done well.

  • 11:36:39


  • 11:36:39

    REHMAnd the sort of weightiness between the two giving up a part of one's body or doing a service for a fee.

  • 11:36:51

    SANDELYes. There are pharmaceutical companies now that hire people who do this as a full-time job. It's called guinea-pigging. This is not to give up organs, but to test drugs in the clinical trials and to be subjected to various forms of probing and testing and manipulation. These raise similar questions. It's really agreed to by the people who sign up to be the guinea pigs for paid to test new drugs. But it raises questions both about coercion and about dignity.

  • 11:37:27

    REHMMichael Sandel. And we're talking about the moral limits of markets. The title of his book is, "What Money Can't Buy." Short break, and right back.

  • 11:40:06

    REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, Michael Sandel is with me. He's professor of government at Harvard University and he's written a brand new book. It's titled, "What Money Can't Buy," and the subtitle, "The Moral Limits of Markets." We've got lots of callers. Let's go to Ft. Worth, Texas. Good morning Martin, you're on the air.

  • 11:40:39

    MARTINGood morning, Diane. I really like the subject matter. Thank you.

  • 11:40:43


  • 11:40:44

    MARTINYour guest made the point that standing in line at the amusement park and allowing a line for people to go to get on the ride faster may not rise to the same moral level as some other argument. And I disagree. I believe that when you go the public space like that, you're there for fun. And there are a lot of children out there who are seeing this. And they're seeing that you can -- you can go to the park and you can have more fun if you have more money. And it's irritating. I remember as a small child when people would take cuts in the water fountain, thinking that was unfair. And so I just want your guest to address that.

  • 11:41:32

    SANDELActually, Martin, I think you raise a good point. And I stand corrected. I -- when comparing it with line standing for congressional hearings, I meant -- what I should have said is that the line standing cuts closer to access to democratic government. But I actually agree with Martin. I think he makes a legitimate point. It is not without civic significance that everybody no longer has to stand in line at an amusement park. Because back in the day when there were not -- where you couldn't buy line jumping privileges, as Martin says, it did teach -- that practice of waiting your turn did teach an important civic lesson.

  • 11:42:21

    SANDELWaiting in that line was a kind of way of cultivating and expressing a certain democratic experience, even though it had nothing directly to do with government. So I think I would like to say that I agree with Martin. And I spoke really too quickly. I do think that even though an amusement park is nothing -- not an institution of government -- it does shape the habits, the attitudes, the manners of democratic citizens. And this does represent a kind of loss.

  • 11:42:55

    REHMLet's turn from amusement parks to the lance of war.

  • 11:43:03


  • 11:43:04

    REHMAnd the extent to which we are paying for people to go to war for this country and other countries.

  • 11:43:15

    SANDELRight. It's a fascinating instance of this, Diane. Back in the Civil War if you were drafted -- there was a conscription by lottery -- if you were drafted and didn't want to serve, the law said that you could hire a substitute to take your place. People advertised in the classified advertising section of newspapers to hire substitutes for up to $1500 sometimes. Andrew Carnegie did it. Others did it. Now when I put this to my students most of them say this is terribly unjust.

  • 11:43:46

    SANDELIt's unfair that the affluent should be able to buy their way out of military service and have the less affluent serve in their place. And then I asked them what they think about today's all volunteer army. And almost all of them are in favor of it. But it does catch them up short. And now, in a way -- so, essentially, the all volunteer army is -- we use the labor market to allocate military service now. And we've gone one step further, which is outsourcing war, in many cases, to private military companies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • 11:44:25

    SANDELThere were more paid military contractors on the ground than there were U.S. military troops. Now this is not because we ever had an explicit public debate about whether we wanted to outsource war to private companies. It just -- we woke up one day and found that this is what we had done. So really what I'm suggesting -- with all of these of cases it's not that there is one principle that can give us the right answer to every controversial use of markets. But that we need, in this country, an explicit public debate -- a morally robust debate -- about where markets serve the public good and where they may crowd out important civic values and other values worth caring about.

  • 11:45:13

    REHMHere's an email from Tiffany in Indianapolis. She says, "I'd like to know why I can't sell my own organs. I'm a perfectly healthy person. About the only thing I actually own outright are my body parts. I can sell my eggs, which may go on to become an actual living, breathing person. But I can't sell my organs that could very well extend the life of another living, breathing person. I just don't see how the two are so very different. And why the two actions are not viewed in the same way."

  • 11:46:01

    SANDELWell, it's a good question. The two may not be all that different. They may be morally analogous. But that doesn't decide the question of whether we should be buying and selling either. There are ads that are run in some Ivy League newspapers. Ads looking for an egg donor where they don't want just any egg donation. They specify the genetic characteristics.

  • 11:46:28

    SANDELThey want a donor, according to some such ad, at least 5'9", healthy, athletic, blonde and the ad goes on to say with SAT scores of 1400 or above. And the amount being offered for an egg from such a donor is $50,000. So I think that this does raise moral questions. Do we want to turn reproduction, procreation and childbearing, into a purely market practice.

  • 11:47:10

    REHMInto a commodity.

  • 11:47:11

    SANDELWell, that's the worry. And so I think that just as we need to have a debate about organ sales, and there are powerful arguments on both sides. I think we should extend that argument to buying and selling eggs and, yes, even sperm. Those donor catalogues are pretty over the top in describing the genetic characteristics and -- not only genetic characteristics, but the college majors and the colleges that the donor, or the sellers, come from. So I think it is worth having that debate.

  • 11:47:46

    REHMTo Frederick, Md., Guthrie, you’re on the air.

  • 11:47:50

    GUTHRIEThank you, Diane. I have two quick points to make, if you'll indulge me.

  • 11:47:56


  • 11:47:58

    GUTHRIEI read the author's book when -- after hearing him interviewed before. And the problem that I have with it is I kept waiting for a coherent, moral philosophy. And instead what I heard was a lot of hazy nostalgia and an aesthetic dislike of the choices of others. But the essence of markets isn't money. The essence of markets -- what makes them efficient is choice and competition. And, unfortunately, what I hear is sort of the same refrain of elites that aesthetically they don't like the choices of others. And the world would be better if everybody made the choices they make.

  • 11:48:47

    SANDELOkay. So this is a good, robust Libertarian challenge to my suggestion that we need a moral debate about markets. The case for markets and unfettered free market Libertarians, as I take Guthrie to be listening for the message beneath the surface, is that efficiency, choice and competition, the three values that Guthrie mentioned, should govern the allocation of all good things. And why not?

  • 11:49:23

    SANDELIt's an argument about freedom that is the pure Libertarian view. And it's also an argument about social utility. Efficiency matters. Efficiency as the economists define it because it makes both parties to the deal better off. And who are we, as third parties or as observers or as citizens, to second guess or to be judgmental with respect to the choices people make? Well, my answer to that would be, and I do try to develop in the book, maybe not to Guthrie's satisfaction, is we need to ask two questions every time we hear this Libertarian free market argument outside the domain of material goods.

  • 11:50:03

    SANDELJust how free is this choice? That goes back to the question of desperate necessity. And even if it is reasonably free, are certain important non-market goods and values and attitudes likely to be crowded out if we use market mechanisms or financial incentives to get kids to read books or to write thank-you notes or if -- or to persuade people to give up a kidney. So there are two moral principles that I try to direct our attention to. One is about freedom. The other is about the meaning of goods and whether that meaning will be corrupted or degraded by market exchange. And that's the debate, I think, that we need to have.

  • 11:50:49

    REHMAll right. And to Michelle. She's in Indianapolis. Good morning. Good morning.

  • 11:50:58

    REHMGo right ahead, please.

  • 11:50:59

    MICHELLEI want -- I have two things to say. First of all, I read the book and it's very thought provoking. I have appreciated reading it. But I think your author has a couple of things I'd like to know. First of all, how -- what would be a legitimate way for students to get money if getting good grades is not one of them?

  • 11:51:20

    MICHELLEThe second thing is that his argument for not paying for grades because it might teach that learning is something onerous sort of confuses the issue because it seems to me that when people work they get money for it. The ideal work is work that it doesn't seem to be work and you get paid for it. I think it's possible to pay students for their good grades and still -- still have a love of learning, of curiosity about what learning is all about.

  • 11:51:55

    SANDELYeah. It could happen. It could happen depending on the child, depending on the student and depending on what else they were being provided in the school besides the two dollars for reading the book. What other cultivation and teaching and nurturing is going on with regard to teaching and learning. So, Michelle, I agree with you that it's conceivable that under the best of circumstances paying kids to read or to study hard or to get good grades might not, in the long run, drive out or crowd out the intrinsic love of learning or of reading.

  • 11:52:34

    SANDELIt's possible. But I'm saying before we resort to financial incentives in an area as morally complex as teaching and learning we, at least, have to ask this question and be alive to the possibility that sometimes market values and financial incentives do drive out attitudes and values that we want to cultivate in these kids.

  • 11:52:56

    MICHELLEOkay. What about other ways you would see that -- I think children need money in order to learn how to handle it. So how -- what's a legitimate way for them to do it that's not so dangerous?

  • 11:53:08

    SANDELWell, assigning them a job or a chore, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow. The time honored jobs, I think, are -- because there there's likely to be less confusion with other higher values and attitudes that we're trying to inculcate in the kids.

  • 11:53:26

    MICHELLE(word?) get paid for intellectual -- intellectual pursuits.

  • 11:53:32

    SANDELWell, it becomes tricky if the pursuit is one that we want to bring the child to love for its own sake. That's where it gets tricky.

  • 11:53:45

    REHMThanks for calling, Michelle. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Tuscaloosa, Ala., Quancine, you're on the air.

  • 11:53:59

    QUANCINEHello, Diane.

  • 11:54:01


  • 11:54:01

    QUANCINEThank you very much for taking my call.

  • 11:54:03


  • 11:54:03

    QUANCINEYour show offers reasons -- good, you know, good reasons to be on your show -- I mean to listen to your show in this crazy world. I have two comments to make. The one is to the -- in response to the caller, two callers ago, about free markets driving everything. I think that we confuse moral -- good morals -- with being legal. Doing something legal doesn't mean that it is of good moral standing. And just because it's free -- just because a decision that we get to make -- doesn't mean it's an ethical one.

  • 11:54:38

    QUANCINEBecause people, by and large, as a people, me included, that we tend to make a decision that is easy for us. And so to make a decision that requires a lot more work is harder. And so, you know, free market doesn't really work that well when you're trying to raise a child. And then as far as the last caller, I think she has a point about paying for intellectual pursuits.

  • 11:55:02

    QUANCINEI don't believe in paying my child for reading a book. But I think if we pay her -- we did -- pay her for a list of chores that she would do and then with that money she goes and buys another book of her choice. And I think that would be a really good re-enforcement. Don't you?

  • 11:55:24

    SANDELI like Quancine's -- I like your suggestion, Quancine. In fact, it gives me another idea, which is building on what you suggest. If you really want to encourage your child to read books, here's a way you can reward them. You can say for every book you read you can go down to the bookstore and you can buy -- I will provide you the next book. So payment in kind is less likely to be corrosive because you are encouraging the love of reading. Whereas is you're saying I'll give you, you know, an iPod, it changes, really, the meaning of the incentive and the encouragement.

  • 11:56:05

    REHMInteresting. Thanks for calling, Quancine. Final question. An email from Bill. What about prostitution? It's a service.

  • 11:56:18

    SANDELWell, and there's a time honored debate about whether prostitution is morally objectionable and whether it should be legally permissible. And that debate illustrates the two themes -- the two principles -- that I suggest we have to ask anytime we're debating whether a good should be -- or a service -- should be bought and sold. Is it really free or is there economic pressure operating here. And often that's the case with prostitution, sadly. And apart from the question of coercion is the question of is this degrading. Is it -- is the money actually changing the meaning in this case of the moral worth of human sexuality in our relation to -- to our bodies and to one another.

  • 11:57:02

    REHMMichael Sandel, he's professor of government at Harvard University. His new book is titled, "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets." Thank you so much for being here.

  • 11:57:19

    SANDELThank you. Thank you, Diane.

  • 11:57:20

    REHMGood to talk with you. And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 11:57:26

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Jill Colgan. The engineer is Aaron Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales.

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