Sunday, 13 May 2012

'What money can't buy' (Book review)

If you have spent most of your life, like me, working in procurement you are also likely to see most things as something which can be bought.  In fact one of the most satisfying challenges is demonstrating to others that what they need can be bought more effectively.  So Michael Sandel's latest book, 'What money can't buy',  sits a bit uncomfortably.

I first came across Mike Sandel a few years ago when I listened to him speak at the LSE on his book 'Justice'. A fantastic book which really made you think and see things differently. His latest book 'What money can't buy' is every bit as challenging and does not disappoint. It is not about what money can't buy; more about what money shouldn't buy; the procurement manager's dilemma, making the decision about what should not be sold. For example,
is it morally right to sell your place in a queue for tickets? Or, although not discussed, is it correct to award a PhD or honorary doctorate with the aim of soliciting a flow of money from the recipient to the awarder? Or, again not discussed, should a manifesto buy votes through commitments to using public procurement in certain ways?

Sandel refers to the Municipal Marketing, something which I have been involved with in the distant past and more recently as a result of public bodies trying to reduce the impact of austerity strategy - having read the book I will now take a wider view.  It is difficult to see how the issues discussed will not help shape the short-term public procurement environment, albeit indirectly, given 'the cuts'.  If there is one key message from the book though it is difficult to see once the horse has bolted it will be extremely difficult to get it back into the stable - therefore handle with care.

If I have one criticism it is the depersonalisation of the book. The narrative, rationale and argument are clear but I think readers could understandably point the finger at others without realising that we are now observers but active participants too.

Mike Sandel is a philosopher. His books challenge the way we see things and question values.  It's therefore entirely appropriate for him to be leading a discussion on 'What money can't buy' right in the epicentre of The City's financial markets, St Paul's Cathedral, on the 23rd May. If you can't get along and want a taster of the book I suspect the LSE will post a podcast on their LSE Public Events website. I fully expect the night's discussion to be challenging. You should also be able to follow on twitter hashtag #moralmarkets.

Fortunately, I have my ticket and it sits in the category of 'What money can't buy'!

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