Tana Wojczuk in Guernica:
Author Michael Sandel’s new book What Money Can’t Buy is troubling in the best sense of the word—it “troubles” the complacency with which Americans have received the rapid encroachment of the market into private life. Economics has expanded in the post-freakonomics world and in a global market, according to Sandel, and that expansion has resulted in an historically intrusive use of market forces into “non-market spheres” like education.
In his book, Sandel explains in both intellectual and historic terms how expansionist ideas of the role of economics coincided with the Reaganite elevation of lassiez-faire economics into something like a religion. Sandel frames the issues he finds problematic and shows how “intrinsic values” such as the love of learning for its own sake, can be threatened when market forces are applied—for example, bribing students to do better in school or public schools seeking out corporate sponsors due to budget cuts.
The framework Sandel provides will ideally challenge readers to see the world differently, like the moment in the cult classic They Live (see Jonathan Lethem’s book-length criticism of the film) where the hero puts on a pair of bodacious ray-ban sunglasses and suddenly sees billboards advertising sunny vacations in fact read “OBEY.” What Money Can’t Buy identifies a few of the many areas where market encroachment is problematic (paying to kill an endangered rhino, paying for the right to pollute, branded education) and equips readers with the questions that, Sandel hopes, will begin a public debate about what money should or shouldn’t buy.