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Not everything can be bought and sold

· Market limits ·

Gary Baker an economist at the University of Chicago said in a text of 1976 that people always act to maximize their own well-being, whatever the activity in which they are engaged. This assumption is at the heart of the economic approach to human behaviour, leaving aside the nature of specific forms of conduct. Today we live in a society in which it is relatively easy to purchase almost anything and without scruples: from the services of a surrogate mother at $ U.S. 6,250 to the termination of a pregnancy, to a clean and silent prison cell for $ 80, to the right to fire at a black rhinoceros nearing extinction (U.S. $150,000). Moreover, Michael J. Sandel, professor of political philosophy and the theory of government at Harvard, asks himself in his book What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York), whether it is reasonable to impose moral restrictions on the market and whether society is entitled to decide when the market is useful for the common good and when, on the contrary, the market must have nothing to do with it. Sandel notes that part of the fascination of markets lies in the fact that they neither judge our actions nor ask whether or not it is right to sell specific goods at auction to the highest bidder.

The market does not assess an operation as valuable or as worthy of admiration. The market is the lubricant of our desires. Everything can be purchased if the price is right. All types of behaviour may be explained as the result of a rational calculation of costs and benefits. To decide where the market should be placed it is first necessary to establish what goods qualify in a mindset of buying and selling, and those that certainly do not, such as, for example, motherhood, teaching or health. Otherwise, as Sandel fears, we shall move on from “having” a market economy to “being” a market society.

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