The Moral Limits of Markets

TOKYO – Today, there are very few things that money can’t buy.

If you are sentenced to a jail term in Santa Barbara, California, and don’t like the standard accommodations, you can buy a prison-cell upgrade for about $90 per night.

If you want to help to prevent the tragic fact that, each year, thousands of babies are born to drug-addicted mothers, you can contribute to a charity that uses a market mechanism to ameliorate the problem: a $300 cash grant to any drug-addicted woman willing to be sterilized.

Or, if you want to attend a US Congressional hearing, but don’t want to wait for hours in line, you can enlist the services of a line-standing company. The company hires homeless people and others in need of work to wait in line – overnight if necessary. Just before the hearing begins, the paying customer can take his or her line-stander’s place in the queue, and claim a front-row seat in the hearing room.