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Things money can't buy – Part I                  

‘What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets’ is a book that Michael J. Sandel, a political professor at Harvard University, wrote, challenging the idea that markets are morally neutral. 


Many examples exist that may seem unbelievable at first but on second thought, occur more often than we think. Should criminals in prison be able to pay to upgrade their living conditions? Should hunters be allowed to pay $150,000 to hunt endangered rhinoceroses in South Africa? Should we give children monetary compensations for reading books or getting good grades? What about hiring mercenaries to fight in wars or donating large sums of money for admission into elite schools? 


In the third chapter of the book, Michael writes about how the market creates corruption and inequality. Money can buy you a trophy but it can’t buy you the honor behind it. Money can buy you a degree or even a school, but it can’t buy you respect. An example he gives is of Switzerland planning to build a nuclear waste storage facility. Economists surveyed around and found that 51% of residents agreed to this idea. Then, economists found that if compensation was paid to the residents for building the facility, instead of the % rising, it dropped by more than 25%. Is money really invincible?


Another example mentioned is the topic of life insurance. In the States, there are companies that buy life insurance contracts from very ill patients who in turn do not have to contribute insurance premium and have money for their treatments. However, the final benefit lies in the hands of the buyer when the patient dies. From the point of view of the buyer, the earlier that the original insurer passes away, the more lucrative their profits will be. Although there are risks involved as in all cases, they can lower them by re-packaging them into innovative, complex financial products and sell them to the public. The final result is such: when someone passes away, a group of people ‘benefit’. The question that we must ask is: Is this practice really suitable?  

Is there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from skyrocketing to realms where they don’t belong? What are the moral limits of markets?  What is the proper role of markets in a democratic society—and how can we protect the moral and civic goods that markets don’t honor and that money can’t buy?


The above scenarios are all allowed legally, but are controversial morally and justly speaking. The director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience of the Central University of Taiwan, who is also an education columnist, asked her students what money cannot buy. Students laughed and said,” There is no such thing that money cannot buy but only a problem of pricing. Ma’am, have you never heard of ‘money that keeps people quiet? If you do something illegal, stigmatic or shameful, you can easily use money to cover it up. Honor? Of course you can buy it. A lot of wealthy people are awarded honorary doctorate diplomas by donating large sums of money. Justice? As long as you are human, you always have a price tag. Judges are human, therefore they also have a price tag. Many civil courts around the world operate by the following rule: with money, a death sentence can be changed to life, but without money, life will be changed to death.”

So what are some things money can’t buy?

Below are ten sayings recorded in the Netherlands along with some added comments by yours truly.

  1. Money can get you a bed, but not sleep, especially quality sleep.

  2. Money can get you a book, but not knowledge, especially wisdom.

  3. Money can get you food, but not an appetite, due to many unnatural products nowadays. 

  4. Money can get you a house, but not a home, especially one filled with love.

  5. Money can get you clothes, but not beauty. Good character is the best brand out there.

  6. Money can get you medicine, but not health. A cheerful heart is good medicine.

  7. Money can get you luxurious goods, but not culture. 

  8. Money can get you temporary joy, but not a sense of happiness because a heart of thanksgiving and goodness are the true sources of sustained happiness. 

  9. Money can get you companions, but not friends. There are three kinds of friends we should seek for – those that can tell you the truth, friends that understand and friends that are knowledgeable. 

  10. Money can get you a position, but not respect. 


In the next article, I will proposesome ways of acquiring the things that money can’t get you.  For those who strive to live life to its fullest, it canact as motivation and encouragement for everyone. 


‘What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets’ is a book that Michael J. Sandel, a political professor at Harvard University, wrote, challenging the idea that markets are morally neutral. 


When looking at those who use money to walk on the edge of the law, many moral flaws appear and there doesn’t seem to be anything money cannot buy. However, if we look more closely at those examples, there are in fact still many things that cannot be bought in addition to the ten sayings recorded at the end of the last article. 
1. Money can get you friends, but not friendships; 
2. Money can get you a clock, but not time. 
3. Money can get you blood, but not life. 
4. Money can get you insurance, but not security. 
5.  Money can get you jewellery or cosmetics, but not beauty.
6.  Money can get you a tranquilizer, but not tranquility.
7.  Money can get you a cemetery, but not a seat in heaven.


A few years ago, I attended a seminar discussing and appealing to a number of educators, religious leaders or charitable non-profit organizations to not use public money, devoted for charity, to invest in gambling, alcohol and tobacco related industries or to engage in business with public funds or stocks. In California, there was a Christian organization which, due to its greed with high interest, was trapped in a Ponzi scheme. Instead of helping people who were in need, they lost a large sum of money which was later invested in some gambling industry. Consequently, you can now see some investment options entitled ‘morality’ funds or ‘green’ funds. 


What is money to begin with? What is the role of money when it was first created?

What happens when the money disappears?

Will the people start "buying" using something else?

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