Betting on Death: Creepy or Not?

BY Paul Solman  June 12, 2012 at 4:40 PM EDT


Monday night the NewsHour featured my discussion with Harvard professor Michael Sandel about his new book, “What Money Can’t Buy,” born from his famed, regularly mobbed Harvard course, “Justice,” most of which is online and hugely popular the world over, especially in China, where Sandel has become a celebrity. There may not be a better or more thought-provoking way to get a moral education than watching the series.

Making Sense

Tuesday’s post is an excerpt from my interview with Sandel about secondary markets for life insurance policies that poses the question: Is it moral to place a bet on when your neighbors might die? Any qualms about betting on the lives of others, now a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States? Or, as Sandel put it:


“Suppose you and I were looking out the window, and we saw a guy walking kind of wobbly, didn’t know him, and we decided to place a bet as to how long he would live. Anything wrong with that?”

My unpremeditated response:

“It’s creepy.”

How would you have responded? Watch the above short video exchange. And check out the “Justice” course online. It’s an education all by itself.

This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions