Monday, July 2, 2012

The Moral Limits of Markets: When is Standing in Line Better than Paying a Price?

In his book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, Harvard Professor Michael J. Sandel invites us to engage in a public debate on the proper role of markets in society. It is a question, he says, to which economists do not give enough thought. I agree. I am happy to join the debate.

First of all, I should make it clear that despite the title, the debate is not about what money can’t buy. There is little controversy about that. Sandel correctly points out that money can buy companionship but not friendship; sex but not love; or a statuette but not the honor associated with selection as the year’s best actor. The heart of Sandel’s argument is really about what money should not buy, or more precisely, what we should not offer for sale or buy if it is offered. The book covers a lot of ground—far too much to deal with all at once. This post will address the ethics of queuing, a method of allocating scarce goods that Sandel sees as morally superior to pricing for many purposes. I hope to take up other issues he raises in future posts. >>>Read more

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