Markets for Self-Authorship
31 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2017
Date Written: October 10, 2017
Markets are said to serve goals such as efficiently allocating resources and entitlements, rewarding desert, inculcating virtues, and spreading power. This Essay, which was written for a special issue of Cornell Journal of Law & Public Policy on the ethical challenges of the market, focuses on another – arguably the most fundamental – goal: markets can serve our right to self-authorship (or self-determination). The aim of this Essay is to study the market’s autonomy-enhancing telos.
Markets are potentially conducive to people’s self-determination because alienating resources and entitlements enables geographical, social, familial, professional, and political mobility, which is often a prerequisite of meaningful autonomy. Markets are also important to self-authorship because they facilitate people’s ability to legitimately enlist one another in the pursuit of private goals and purposes – both material and social – thus enhancing our ability to be the authors of our own lives. Appreciating these two autonomy-enhancing roles of the market entails important lessons for liberal law, because a liberal polity is expected to found its major institutions on the commitment to people’s autonomy. Most of these lessons take the form of interpretive recommendations regarding the market’s desirable design as well as instructions as per the background regime it requires. But the status of self-authorship as the ultimate commitment of liberal law suggests that some lessons may go further than that. It implies that at times autonomy may function as a constraint that trumps the market’s other goals when they conflict.
Markets with the primary goal of autonomy enhancement will have several characteristics. Autonomy-enhancing markets must allow universal participation since exclusion and discrimination would undermine their raison d’être. They should also set limits on the power to alienate whenever it erodes our ability to rewrite our life-story and start anew. Such markets should proactively ensure meaningful choices in each major sphere of human action and interaction; but this injunction of intra-sphere multiplicity must be curtailed where cognitive, behavioral, structural, and political economy reasons imply that more choice may actually reduce autonomy. Moreover, when markets are structured to serve autonomy, market relationships are governed by rules that comply with the prescription of reciprocal respect for self-determination, meaning that party interactions in the market are governed by the maxim of relational justice. Finally, since utility is understood to be instrumental to the markets’ ultimate value, which is autonomy, the law of the market must avoid the commodification of people and interpersonal relationships. It should thus employ, in some subsets of the settings it governs, techniques of incomplete commodification ensuring that, while entitlements are exchanged, interactions retain a personal aspect.
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