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Selected Timeline: Moral Limits of Markets

October 15, 2012


Along with vast improvements in material conditions capitalism’s dark side has created insatiable appetites, limitless monetization of contemporary life through privatization for-profit (hospitals, schools, prisons…) commodification and commercialization. Harvard political philosopher, Michael Sandel claims we have gone too far and calls for an informed public debate, a robust conversation on the moral limits of markets? Sandel argues that the left and right, the Democrats and Republicans have abandoned civic virtue, and have impoverished views of citizenship and community. Sandel does not suggest precise limits but invites discussions. Things that were once considered repugnant as marketable commodities, have become or are gradually becoming normalized: paying people to give an organ or blood or to submit to risky drug tests; the sale of naming rights in classrooms, for sports stadiums, etc; paying school children to read more or get good grades; the right of corporations to pollute the atmosphere; hiring mercenaries to fight wars or using private corporations in the U.S. military presence in Iraq; selling citizenship to immigrants; selling admission to elite universities.

Selected Timeline of Related Events in the Social History of Moral Limits of Markets

Barely begun, work in process. Please note that efforts are made to acknowledge sources but this is a blog post not an academic paper and there might be unintentional omissions. See webliography and bibliography.

2012-10-15 Roth received a Nobel Prize for his innovative exchange concept applied to kidney transplants. In a 2007 article he noted that his exchange concept may have been repugnant to some as it created a grey area in benefits from organ donations. Economists Alvin E. Roth of Harvard University and Lloyd S. Shapley of the University of California at Los Angeles whose work has led to nearly 2,000 kidney transplants across the United States have received 2012 Nobel Prize for economics Monday at a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden.  Roth and Shapley were honored for “the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design.” (Smith 2012-10-15 ”  Nobel economists’ big impact: Kidney transplants ). See also Roth, Alvin E. 2007. “Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets.” Journal of Economic Perspectives. Summer: 21:3. pp. 37–58.

2012-07-12 In a book review entitled “Money and the markets: Insatiable longing,” The Economist examined limits of capitalism.

2012-04-24 Michael J. Sandel’s book entitled What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets was published. Sandel asks, “Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we allow corporations to pay for the right to pollute the atmosphere? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars? Auctioning admission to elite universities? Selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay? (Amazon)”

2007 “The laws against buying or selling kidneys reflect a reasonably widespread repugnance, and this repugnance may make it difficult for arguments that focus only on the gains from trade to make headway in changing these laws. That does not mean that no gains from exchange can be realized; in fact some gains are beginning to be realized in the kidney exchange programs that Tayfun So¨nmez, UtkuU¨ nver, and I helped to design in New England and elsewhere. In the simplest form of kidney exchange, a patient with a willing donor who has an incompatible blood type (or who is incompatible for another reason) can exchange a kidney with another such incompatible patient–donor pair. (That is, the pairs are matched so that the donor from one pair is compatible with the patient from the other, and each patient receives a kidney from the other patient’s donor.) This sort of “in kind” exchange has gained acceptance in the transplant community (Roth, Alvin E. 2007. “Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets.” Journal of Economic Perspectives. Summer: 21:3. pp. 37–58.).1″

2005-02-09 Michael J. Sandel presented his paper entitled the “The Moral Limits of Markets” in which he raised these questions: “Are there some things that should not be bought and sold, and, if so, why? The proliferation of markets in recent years makes this issue difficult to avoid. Consider, for example, recent proposals to establish markets in organs for transplantation, the race among medical entrepreneurs to patent human genes and other life forms, the aggressive marketing of drugs as consumer goods, and the proliferation of for-profit schools, hospitals, and prisons. The rampant commodification, commercialization, and privatization of contemporary life give us reason to reconsider the moral limits of markets: Are there some things that money should not buy?” (Hoffmann and Sandel 2005-02-09).

2003-07 [T]he U.S. Department of Defense included terrorist attacks or terrorism futures market in a speculative list of  predictive markets. Public repugnance forced the Pentagon to hastily cancel the program (wiki).

1996  Michael J. Sandel’s book entitled Democracy’s Discontent was published.  In it Sandel called for a rejuvenation of civic life and civic voice in the United States. He argued that the vision of citizenship and community shared by both Democrats and Republicans was impoverished ( Amazon).

1990 “[T]he Clean Air Act was amended to allow trading of rights to pollute through tradable emissions entitlements (Roth 2007).”

1980s Alvin E. Roth of Harvard University’s market design experiments based on Shapley’s 1960s work were used for such matches as students with schools and organ donors with patients who need a transplant  (Smith 2012-10-15 ”  Nobel economists’ big impact: Kidney transplants ). See also Roth, Alvin E. 2007. “Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets.” Journal of Economic Perspectives. Summer: 21:3. pp. 37–58.

1960s Economist Lloyd S. Shapley co-developed a mathematical theory on resource allocation as applied to the job market (Smith 2012-10-15 ”  Nobel economists’ big impact: Kidney transplants ). See also Roth, Alvin E. 2007. “Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets.” Journal of Economic Perspectives. Summer: 21:3. pp. 37–58.

1907 George Simmel’s book on economic sociology entitled The Philosophy of Money  was published. Simmel investigated the consequences as money penetrated everyday life. “Hannes Böhringer has argued, “Money…objectifies the ‘style of life’, forces metropolitan people into ‘objectivity’, ‘indifference’, ‘intellectuality’, ‘lack of character’, ‘lack of quality’. Money socializes human beings as strangers…money also transforms human beings into res absolutae, into objects. Simmel’s student, Georg Lukács, correctly noticed that this objectification (in his words: reification and alienation) did not remain external, cannot, as Simmel maintained, be the ‘gatekeeper of the innermost elements’, but rather itself becomes internalized (H.Böhringer, ‘Die “Philosophie des Geldes” als ästhetische Theorie’, in H.J.Dahme and O.Rammstedt (eds), Georg Simmel und die Moderne, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1984, pp. 178–82, esp. p. 182. cited in Simmel, Georg. 2004 [1907]. The Philosophy of Money. Third enlarged edition. Ed. David Frisby. Trans. Tom Bottomore and David Frisby from a first draft by Kaethe Mengelberg. London and New York.)” Roth ( 2007) cited Simmel (1907 as a starting point in sociology literature on “how the introduction of money changes many kinds of social relationships and their meanings.”

Who’s Who?

Michael J. Sandel “is professor of government at Harvard University, where he has taught political philosophy in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences since 1980. He was educated at Brandeis University and received his Ph.D. from Balliol College, Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He is a member of the National Constitution Center Advisory Panel, the Rhodes Scholarship Committee of Selection, the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jewish Philosophy, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is the author, most recently, of Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy (1996), as well as Liberalism and Its Critics (1984) and Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1982) (Tanner Lectures Introduction. 1998-05-11/12. “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets).” While at Balliol College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, Sandel studied under political philosopher Charles Taylor.
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Selected Webliography and Bibliography

The Economist. 2012-07-12. “Money and the markets: Insatiable longing.” The Economist.

Hoffmann, Stanley; Sandel, Michael J. 2005-02-09. “Markets, Morals, and Civic Life”  Introduction by Stanley Hoffmann. Presented at the 1887th Stated Meeting, held at the House of the Academy. http://www.amacad.org/publications/bulletin/Summer2005/MarketsMoralsCivitLife.pdf

Roth, Alvin E. 2007. “Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets.” Journal of Economic Perspectives. Summer: 21:3. pp. 37–58.

Sandel, Michael J. 1996. Democracy’s Discontent.  Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Amazon.

Sandel, Michael J. 1998-05-11/12. “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values. Delivered at Brasenose College, Oxford.

Sandel, Michael J. 2005. “The Moral Limits of Markets.” Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Summer: 6–10.

Sandel, Michael J. 2012-04-24. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Simmel, Georg. 1907. The Philosophy of Money. 

Smith, Aaron. 2012-10-15. “Nobel economists’ big impact: Kidney transplants.” CNN Money.

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