By Jason F. Brennan & Peter Jaworski
May you sell your vote? May you sell your kidney? May gay men pay surrogates to bear them children? May spouses pay each other to watch the kids, do the dishes, or have sex? Should we allow the rich to genetically engineer gifted, beautiful children? Should we allow betting markets on terrorist attacks and natural disasters? Most people shudder at the thought. To put some goods and services for sale offends human dignity. If everything is commodified, then nothing is sacred. The market corrodes our character. Or so most people say.
In Markets without Limits, Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski give markets a fair hearing. The market does not introduce wrongness where there was not any previously. Thus, the authors claim, the question of what rightfully may be bought and sold has a simple answer: if you may do it for free, you may do it for money. Contrary to the conservative consensus, they claim there are no inherent limits to what can be bought and sold, but only restrictions on how we buy and sell.
Lamont Rodgers on Philosophy in Review wrote:
"As a whole, Markets without Limits is an insightful book defending commodification, and will no doubt be cited for years to come in regards to the anti-commodification debate. The authors present each anti-commodification objection justly, impartially, and thoroughly. Their responses are exceptionally coherent, clear, and concise (often even with a sprinkling of humor!). Although there are most certainly objections to be raised about the relevance of trivial possible market scenarios to the reality of actual markets, Markets without Limits is a skillful defense of commodification, set forth in a manner that is accessible to veteran philosophers and novices and students alike."
Jonathan Anomaly on Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews wrote:
"Anti-commodification Theorists (ACTs) hold that ‘there are some things that people are normally allowed to own or possess in some way, but which should not be for sale’. In this eminently accessible text, Brennan and Jaworski aim to refute ACTs. Their fundamental thesis is that ‘if it is permissible to do X for free, then you may do X for money’. [...] Despite these minor problems, this text contains important conceptual and empirical arguments that one must confront in order to have an informed view of what effect markets do and do not have on people. In this regard, the text ends with an explanation of how ACTs might prove the authors wrong (224-25). Those who wish to take up that challenge must track and overcome the many arguments packed into this book. The text is thus a necessary read for both friends and foes of markets."
Jordan Ballor on Books & Culture (A Christian Review) wrote:
"Philosophers like Michael Sandel and Gerald Cohen have argued that as markets expand into new areas of life, important character virtues wither and valuable social relationships decay. Other philosophers like Debra Satz and Elizabeth Anderson direct their criticism at specific markets ranging from sex and surrogacy to kidneys and votes (though they don't always think moral objections justify legal prohibitions). Giving away morally significant goods and services is fine, even noble, but selling them is wrong. Jason Brennan and Peter M. Jaworski's book is a welcome challenge to this view. [...] Are the gut reactions we feel when we encounter a market that makes us queasy an indicator that our queasiness is justified, for reasons we don't yet understand? Maybe so, but I doubt it. In high stakes cases like markets for organs or genetically engineered babies, we should take our cue from Brennan and Jaworski and look to the expected consequences of markets -- including regulated markets -- on human welfare as a way of gauging whether our gut reactions are a reliable indicator of whether a market is morally justified."
"Markets Without Limits is a rigorous, accessible, and thoroughly edifying exercise in what might be called economic, or even utilitarian, morality. The thesis, that if you can legitimately have it then you can legitimately sell it, is deceptive in its simplicity and ingenious in its elaboration. The way the argument is constructed allows Brennan and Jaworski to distinguish between markets in things like child pornography and nuclear weapons and markets in things like kidneys and drugs. They would oppose markets in the former cases not because of the problems of markets themselves, but because those are the kinds of things that should not be possessed at all. It thus wouldn't be legitimate to give them away either. One of the critical features of argument, as the authors progress through various forms of opposition to their thesis, whether on the basis of semiotic meaning and interpretation ('money communicates commodification'), corruption ('markets change incentives'), or disgust ('markets in certain things are disgusting'), is the nuance with which markets are defined. [...] A great strength of this book is the logical rigor of its conclusions. [...] The limits of this book on the legitimate limits of markets, however, arise from its myopic moral frame. The authors, for instance, simply assert that markets in sex between consenting adults are morally acceptable because sex as such is acceptable. It may be, however, that the correct 'market' setting for sex is covenanted, monogamous heterosexual marriage within which we experience what John Paul II described as 'a mutual gift of self.' We wouldn't know this, however, simply from the inherent logic of economic morality. A large lacuna of this study thus has to do with the sources and groundings of moral judgment, on what basis we may determine whether it is legitimate to possess or own something in the first place, much less trade or sell it. [...] Perhaps the authors would simply class religious objections to markets in certain goods as types of superstitious 'taboos,' which they do reject explicitly as 'unjustified.' Although I do think there are moral limits that are significant for defining the particular ways in which markets in certain goods need to be constructed, a larger lesson of Brennan and Jaworski's book has to do with the inexorable logic of merely immanent or humanitarian considerations. Without grounding economic morality within a transcendent - indeed, divine - frame, it is difficult to see how to escape the imperial logic of unlimited markets."
Where Jaworski Draws the Line
Or watch a lecture by co-author Jason Brennan (37 minutes), or a debate between Peter Jaworki and an opponent (74 minutes), or listen to this podcast interview with both authors from libertarianism.org.
"In Markets Without Limits Brennan and Jaworski defend the view that there are “no legitimate worries about what we buy, trade, and sell.” But rather than being a unified defense of this position Brennan and Jaworski unwittingly offer three distinct pro-commodification views—two of which are subject to counterexamples. This Commentary will clarify what should be the thesis of their volume and identify the conditions that any counter-example to this must meet."
About Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski
Jason Brennan is Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, and, by courtesy, Associate Professor of Philosophy. He is the author of Why Not Capitalism? (Routledge, 2014), Compulsory Voting: For and Against, with Lisa Hill (2014), Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know (2012), The Ethics of Voting (2011), and A Brief History of Liberty, with David Schmidtz (2010).
Peter Jaworski is Assistant Teaching Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Prior to joining the faculty at Georgetown, Peter was Visiting Research Professor at Brown University’s Political Theory Project. He is a senior fellow with the Canadian Constitution Foundation and serves on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Liberal Studies.
Table of Contents
Part I: Should Everything Be for Sale?
- Are There Some Things Money Should Not Buy?
- If You May Do It For Free, You May Do It For Money
- What the Debate Is and Is Not About
- It’s the How, Not the What
Part II: Do Markets Signal Disrespect?
- Semiotic Objections
- The Mere Commodity Objection
- The Wrong Signal and Wrong Currency Objections
- Objections: Semiotic Essentialism and Minding Our Manners
Part III: Do Markets Corrupt?
- The Corruption Objection
- How to Make a Sound Corruption Objection
- The Selfishness Objection
- The Crowding Out Objection
- The Immoral Preference Objection
- The Low Quality Objection
- The Civics Objection
Part IV: Exploitation, Harm to Self, and Misallocation
- Essential and Incidental Objections
- Line Up For Expensive Equality!
- Baby Buying
- Vote Buying
Part V: Debunking Intuitions
- Anti-Market Attitudes Are Resilient
- Where Do Anti-Market Attitudes Come From?
- The Pseudo-Morality of Disgust