By Cass R. Sunstein

Free Markets and Social Justice
Editions:Paperback: £ 24.00 GBP
ISBN: 9780195102734
Pages: 416

"This important book presents a new conception of the relationship between free markets and social justice. The work begins with foundations—the appropriate role of existing 'preferences,' the importance of social norms, the question whether human goods are commensurable, and issues of distributional equity. Continuing with rights, the work shows that markets have only a partial but instrumental role in the protection of rights. The book concludes with a discussion on regulation, developing approaches that would promote both economic and democratic goals, especially in the context of risks to life and health.

Free Markets and Social Justice develops seven basic themes during its discussion:

  • the myth of laissez-faire;
  • preference formation and social norms;
  • the contextual character of choice;
  • the importance of fair distribution;
  • the diversity of human goods;
  • how law can shape preferences;
  • the puzzles of human rationality.

As the latest word from an internationally-renowned writer, this work will raise a number of important questions about economic analysis of law in its conventional form.

Reviews:John Patrick Diggins on The New York Times wrote:

"Mr. Sunstein's belief that better laws can deal with the adverse effects of the market is tempered by his acknowledgment of failures as well as successes. [...] Ironically, Mr. Sunstein's faith in democracy perpetuates America's Jeffersonian faith in natural harmony, an assumption that has done more to release the energies of free-market capitalism than to restrain them. Nevertheless, his book is learned, thoughtful and judicious and, like a good pragmatist, he asks us to evaluate the market not by its theoretical premises but by its practical effects."

Peter Berkowitz on American Political Science Review wrote:

"The two crucial and connected points, to which Sunstein returns again and again, are that markets are complex institutions and that morals are an irreducible element of social and political life. It is not exactly that there is no such thing as a free market or that morals are everywhere, but that free markets cannot be understood in isolation from beliefs and practices, especially beliefs about what is just and good for human beings and practices that prepare or prevent one from participating effectively in commercial, democratic society. Moreover, because they depend on and are partly constituted by law, free markets are not only more complex but also less autonomous than they sometimes appear. [...]
He wants to show that current market thinking is insufficiently attuned to the harmful effects of background conditions that are unjust. But he makes this point as a friend of markets, and in the same spirit he seeks to show that current thinking about social justice is inadequately alert to the benefits markets confer. Indeed, for those who are inclined to see nothing but selfishness and exploitation in market relations, his message is that more appreciation must be mustered for the role that markets play in promoting the prosperity that is one of the key preconditions for a life of liberty. [...]
Indeed, by refusing to treat free markets as ends in themselves and through the subtle assessment of markets’ vices as well as virtues, Sunstein invites the thought that democracy, like markets, has vices as well as virtues, and more democracy, like more freedom in the marketplace, does not automatically guarantee greater efficiency or greater human well-being."


About Cass Sunstein

From Wikipedia: "Cass Robert Sunstein (born September 21, 1954) is an American legal scholar, particularly in the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, and law and behavioral economics, who was the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012. For 27 years, Sunstein taught at the University of Chicago Law School. Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School. He is Honorary Doctor at Copenhagen Business School."

Table of Contents

I. Foundational Issues

  • Preferences and Politics
  • Social Norms and Social Roles
  • Incommensurability and Valuation in Law
  • Measuring Well-being
  • Experts, Economists, and Democrats

II. Rights

  • Why Markets Don't Stop Discrimination
  • The First Amendment in Cyberspace
  • On Property and Constitutionalism
  • Political Equality and Unintended Consequences

III. Regulation

  • Endogenous Preferences, Environmental Law
  • Paradoxes of the Regulatory State
  • Health-Health Trade-Offs
  • Democratizing America Through Law
  • Congress, Constitutional Moments, and the Cost-Benefit State