Michael Sandel’s latest book is not a scholarly work but is clearly intended as a work of public philosophy—a contribution to public rather than academic discourse. The book makes two moves. The first, which takes up most of it, is to demonstrate by means of a great many examples, mostly culled from newspaper stories, that markets and money corrupt—degrade—the goods they are used to allocate. The second follows from the first as Sandel’s proposed solution: we as a society should deliberate together about the proper meaning and purpose of various goods, relationships, and activities (such as baseball and education) and how they should be valued.
Public philosophy is a different genre from academic philosophy, but that does not mean that it cannot be held to high standards. In my view, while this book does provide food for thought and food for conversation, it nevertheless has significant failings as a work of public philosophy rather than journalistic social activism on the model of Naomi Klein’s No logo (1999).