In his book “What Money Can’t Buy,” Sandel examines one of the biggest ethical questions of our time and provokes a debate that’s been missing in our market-driven age: What is the proper role of markets in a democratic society, and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars, outsourcing inmates to for-profit prisons, auctioning admission to elite universities, or selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay? Isn’t there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? In recent decades, market values have indeed crowded out non-market norms in almost every aspect of life – medicine, education, government, law, art, sports, and even family life/personal relations.
“Without realizing it,” Sandel says, “We have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.” The more market thinking comes to dominate life, the more it infects our ways of thinking, crowding out values such as loyalty, civic duty and altruism. Sandel argues that we need a serious public debate about what values we want our politics to build and defend. That means dropping the illusion that politics is about no more than efficient management of the economy; it’s about nothing less than competing visions of what constitutes the good society.