As a professor at a Christian university, I wince when I hear students referred to as "customers." Administrators, policymakers, and, at times, even students themselves resort to seeing the relationship I share with young people as one of economic exchange. In essence, my students (or, more likely, their parents) pay tuition, and I draw a salary. As a result, I am obligated to provide them with specific forms of instruction.
Why should I react so negatively to this way of thinking? Is it merely a matter of professional pride? Or does my uneasiness flow from deep convictions about the relationship I am called to share with my students?
In What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Harvard government professor Michael J. Sandel helpfully warns against conceiving human life in purely economic terms. Sandel specializes in accessibly written treatises on weighty matters of morality and ethics, like his most recent best seller, Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?, which was based on his popular classroom lecture series. (He also hosts a PBS and BBC series bearing the same name.)
What Money Can't Buy furthers Sandel's reputation as a great public intellectual. The book diagnoses the many ways money and economic logic define ever-increasing segments of our lives. Sandel's point is not that markets are inherently evil. He simply asks "whether market norms will crowd out nonmarket norms, and if so, whether this represents a loss worth caring about."
As with Justice, What Money Can't Buy introduces a host of case studies meant to stimulate moral reflection. Sandel's five chapters explore questions ranging from gift giving, to naming rights, to the inherent value of standing in line. One case study ...