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Limits of Markets

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 26 May 2012

Is there something morally distorted in a world where you can rent a womb for a woman to carry your baby?

Or take a gamble on other people's ill health by dealing in the new market in death bonds?

Or is free market competition the best oil that makes the world go round?

Michael Sandel is one of the world's best known political philosophers, and he joins us on this week's Forum to argue that market values, especially in America, are in danger of infiltrating all aspects of our lives, eroding moral standards and undermining social bonds.

Testing his ideas are Chinese writer Jianying Zha and Indian social entrepreneur Harish Hande.

Illustration by Emily Kasriel: the market driving out civic values.


4 items
  • Michael Sandel

    Michael Sandel

    Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel has had a distinguished career examining some of the big questions of our age, and his latest concern is that, especially in America, people are no longer just living in a market economy, the country has drifted into a ‘market society’, where you can buy almost anything you like, if you can afford to pay for it. What are the moral implications of this?

    Sandel: What money can’t buy
  • Jianying Zha

    Jianying Zha

    Jianying Zha is an award winning author and analyst of China who divides her time between Beijing and New York. She says that in China, there is now a combination of market capitalism where you increasingly have to pay your way with rigorous administrative control exercised by the state. And those Chinese who remember the forced collectivisation of everything in the Cultural Revolution are understandably wary of putting public limits on the freedom of the market.

    Zha: Tide Players
  • Harish Hande

    Harish Hande

    For the last two decades, Harish Hande has been using the power of the market to improve the lives of the poorest, mainly by bringing solar lighting to remote Indian villages with no access to electricity grid. But he insists that what the poor need more than technological innovation are innovative, market-based financial instruments that are tailored to their circumstances and which will enable them to take control of their own economic destiny.


    Michael Sandel suggests using new technology to put debate about moral issues into the centre of public life. He wants to use massive interactive wallpaper-like TVs to create a platform for discussion in every public square in towns and cities across the globe. In this way, groups of participants from a dozen countries at once, maybe more, could engage in serious public discourse on the big questions: about justice, equality and inequality, the role of markets, the meaning of the common good, across cultures and national boundaries.

  • On Next Week's Programme

    As Britain celebrates the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee we’ll be taking a look at the role of tradition with linguist Dan Everett, ceramicist Grayson Perry, and philosopher Tariq Ramadan.


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