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What Should Not Be Sold?

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Apr 28, 2012    •    704 Views

Assume you just learned that your mother paid someone to write the (warm and loving) toast she expressed at your wedding. Is that okay?

During Bloomberg radio’s On the Economy, referring to a purchased wedding toast, Harvard professor Michael Sandel asked our opinion about what should be sold.

Should money let us…

  • Move to the front of a line at airport security checkpoints?
  • Upgrade to a nicer cell at a California prison? (It could cost $82 a night in Santa Ana, California.)
  • Access a high speed lane during rush hour?
  • Get accepted by a prestigious college?
  • Avoid military service? (During the Civil War, it took a $300 payment to the government to be excused.)
  • Buy U.S. citizenship?
  • Get kids to read books?

Our Bottom Line: When, by paying for a good or a service, do the dollars crowd out a greater good for society?

Having been captivated by Dr. Sandel’s Bloomberg interview (4/25, On the Economy, iTunes), I looked for more. This Stephen Colbert interview was very funny. And then I found classes that were even better. I also recommend Dr. Sandel’s book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.

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