From Babyselling to Boilerplate: Reflections on the Limits of the Infrastructures of the Market

51 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2017 Last revised: 1 Feb 2017

See all articles by Margaret Jane Radin

Margaret Jane Radin

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law; University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: January 24, 2017


This essay recounts and updates some of my research in property theory and in contract theory. One aim of my research has been to provide pathways for understanding the significance of market-inalienability. In developed societies that feature the institutions of private law, with commitment to a traditional understanding of the role of the polity in underwriting, managing, and preserving those institutions, market-inalienability has a central place.

Taking up the issue of what things or relationships can be treated as commodities, I first critique a mode of inquiry — a traditional view of law and economics — which finds no problem with commodification of anything whatever. Counter to this mode of reasoning, I review two points of view that consider some kinds of commodification wrongful: commodification as “desperate exchanges” (Michael Walzer) and commodification as “corruption” (Michael Sandel). Finding neither of these anti-commodification theories satisfactory, I review in some detail the example of babyselling — which should more accurately be called purchased adoption — to show the dilemmas of commodification, and the complexity of arguments about it.

Juxtaposing to these forms of commodification a variety of commodification that is more specifically thought of as contractual overreaching rather than property overreaching, the focus turns to the practice of firms that deploy standardized fine-print contracts (“boilerplate”) that routinely waive the background legal rights of those who receive them. This practice of using contract to escape basic rights commodifies some rights that ought to be market-inalienable. Such rights should remain permanently in the care of the polity, and should not be treated as objects of trade.

Keywords: Commodification, Personhood, Market-Inalienability, Baby-Selling, Boilerplate, Rule of Law, Redress of Grievances, Property, Contract

JEL Classification: K110, K120, K190, K290, K320, K380, K390, K400, K410, K420, K490

Suggested Citation

Radin, Margaret Jane, From Babyselling to Boilerplate: Reflections on the Limits of the Infrastructures of the Market (January 24, 2017). Osgoode Hall Law Journal, Vol. 54(2), Forthcoming ; Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper No. 28/2017; U of Michigan Law & Econ Research Paper No. 16-031; U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 530. Available at SSRN: or

Margaret Jane Radin (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States
505-314-6516 (Phone)

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