What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

Glen Newey writes:

Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy does for the market what the London Dungeon does for urban history. It’s a compendium of horror stories arising from what one might call the ryanairation of social life, the breakdown of once cash-free practices into severally billable units of account. Capitol Hill lobbying outfits now pay queuing firms to stand in line, sometimes overnight, so that the lobbyists can step in just before a committee session starts; ‘concierge’ medical companies offer queue-jumping treatment to those willing to stump up the fees. Firms pay people to sport temporary tattoos of company logos on their foreheads. Inuit sell their hunters’ vouchers to vacationing gunslingers eager to blow walruses away at point-blank range. Gift-reassignment firms allow you to parry Yuletide atrocity knitwear targeted at you by well-meaning relatives and palm it off on some other luckless recipient – which, as Sandel notes, raises the prospect of Argyle socks ping-ponging their way across cyberspace for ever.

(LRB 21 June 2012)

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