The Moral Limits of Markets

Name minor:

The Moral Limits of Markets



Teaching language:


Programme which has the coordinating role for this minor:

Rotterdam School of Management, Department of Global Business & Stakeholder Management

Other programmes which are contributing to the minor:



See admissions matrix



Markets—and market values—have come to govern our lives as never before. It sometimes looks as if nowadays everything of value can be bought –if you have the money. But are there also things that should not be for sale in a society? This is the central question in the Moral Limits of Markets (MLM) debate. Consider these cases. If you get convicted for a non-violent crime in California (and provided you can afford it) you can book a clean, quiet jail cell, away from all other non-paying prisoners for $82 per night.  Or: In South Africa, you can buy the right to kill a rhino for $150,000. The idea behind this scheme is to give local ranchers an incentive to raise and protect endangered species such as rhinos. Market advocates simply see two examples of an efficient use of available resources here. But market sceptics feel that, in examples such as these, people should not be able to buy these things. In this minor students will be introduced to some analytical frameworks for assessing the moral limits of markets. You will be encouraged to think about critical examples of where we should draw the line between matters that are suitable to be distributed by the market and matters which should be exempt from the market. The minor also provides an antidote against the market triumphalism that dominates the research in some academic disciplines, such as economics and business administration.

Learning objectives:

Students are introduced to a number of recent major theories about markets and morality; they are stimulated to think for themselves about instances in which we may take the use of the market for granted too easily. They will learn to conduct their own empirical research informed by the normative theories discussed.

Specific characteristics:

The minor introduces students in business administration, economics and other social sciences to the disciplines of (normative) business ethics and political theory.
As part of these explorations students will familiarize themselves with research methods typical for these domains of normative inquiry. 


Maximum number of students that can participate in the minor:

300 Minimum number of students that can participate in the minor: 15

Contact hours:

The minor consists of 10 sessions (10 classes, 1 class per week, three hours per class). Code/code: to be assigned ECTS: 15 ECTS Teaching method: required literature, lectures, gathering empirical data, student presentations, term paper


Method of examination:

Final grade will be based on: Class participation: 20% Short mid-term paper (1200 words): 20%
the authors of the best papers will be invited to give a student presentation to the class, number of presentations will depend on the time available; Term paper: 60% (30% paper, 30% paper pitch session)

Feedback method:

The minor consists of three parts: Part 1 – Major recent theories of markets and morality Part 2 – Sample cases to illustrate these theories – see schedule below Part 3 – Each student will conduct his/her own case study, applying the frameworks discussed as part of the theories. These may be replications of the sample cases or entirely new applications of the frameworks discussed as part of the theories of markets and morality. Each class meeting will consist of a mix of these three ingredients. As the program develops, the emphasis will gradually shift from theories, to sample cases, and finally to students’ own case work. We will end up by considering work by students themselves. The best cases will be presented in the class.

Teaching materials:

  • Required reading:
Anderson, E. 1990. The Ethical Limitations of the Market. Economics and Philosophy 6: 179-205. Anderson, E. 1988. Values, Risks, and Market Norms, Philosophy & Public Affairs 7(1): 54-65 Grant, R. 2006. Ethics and incentives: A political approach. American Political Science Review 100(1): 29-39. Radin, M. J. 1987. Market-Inalienability. Harvard Law Review 100(8): 1849-1937. Sandel, M. J.  2012.  What Money Can’t Buy.  New York: Penguin. Satz, D.  2010.  Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Tobin, J. 1970. On Limiting the Domain of Inequality. Journal of Law and Economics, 13(2): 263-77 Walzer, M. Money and Commodities (extract available on the BB). 


Dr Ben Wempe, in collaboration with other members of the Department of Business-Society Management at RSM.