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Professor P. J. Hill Essay Award

A friend of Wheaton College has established an endowment for an annual essay contest in honor of Dr. P.J. Hill, who retired from the Wheaton College Business and Economics Department in 2011. The contest is open to all Wheaton College undergraduate students.

1st Prize: $750; 2nd Prize : $200; 3rd Prize: $50

The Moral Limits of Markets: Should There Be Markets for Everything?

Michael Sandel, a well known political philosopher, recently published a book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. Sandel argues:

The reach of markets, and market-oriented thinking, into aspects of life traditionally governed by nonmarket norms is one of the most significant developments of our time. (p.7)

Putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them. That’s because markets don’t only allocate goods; they also express and promote certain attitudes towards the things being exchanged (p. 9).

Some of the things that raise moral issues for Sandel are:

                Access to the car pool lane while driving solo: $8 during rush hour.

                The services of an Indian surrogate mother to carry a pregnancy: $6250.

                The right to shoot an endangered black rhino: $150,000.

                Standing in line overnight on Capitol Hill to hold a place for a lobbyist who wants to attend a      

                congressional hearing: $15-$20 per hour.

                The reward for each book read by a second grader in an underachieving Dallas school: $2.

Should adoption agencies be allowed to charge more for attractive babies? Should kidneys be bought and sold on the open market? What about naming rights for stadiums? Genetic engineering is advancing so rapidly that in a few years parents will be able to choose children on the basis of athletic ability, height, mental capacity and other traits. A market for “designer babies” will probably evolve. Should there be such a market?

In your essay, discuss Sandel’s objection to the spread of markets to goods and services previously not bought and sold for a monetary price. What is your reaction to Sandel’s concerns? Does the spread of markets raise serious moral issues for society? 

One of the criticisms of Sandel’s book is that he doesn’t provide substantive criteria for the appropriate use of markets and prices.  Develop a standard by which our society can judge what should and shouldn’t be sold. If there are goods or services that you don’t think should be sold, discuss whether you would use just moral suasion or the coercive power of government to limit the reach of the market.


Essays must not exceed 2000 words.  Please include a word count.

Essays should be submitted in electronic form to business.economics@wheaton.edu by February 9, 2020.  Please include a cover page with your name and contact information which will be removed so the judges can read the essay without identifying the author.   Please do not include any other identifying information.

The essays will be judged by three professors based on the substance of the essay and the quality of the writing.  The decision of the judging panel is final.

For more information on how your financial aid package may be affected by the addition of a college prize, please contact Student Financial Services. Please note that awards will be paid through SFS into student accounts.