Why Markets? Welfare, Autonomy, and the Just Society
31 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2018
Date Written: April 11, 2018
Eric Posner & Glen Weyl’s “Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for A Just Society” is an enormously ambitious new book, one that challenges conventional wisdom and advances bold reform programs. They argue that the causes of most pitfalls of existing markets and political systems are, respectively, property and the principle of one person one vote. The former is the ultimate basis of illegitimate market power; the latter distorts politics by obscuring the intensity of people’s preferences. Posner & Weyl argue that uprooting private property and reconstructing electoral systems so that they register these intensities would revitalize the vision of the Philosophical Radicals by pushing the ideal of the market to its logical institutional conclusions.
This Book Review celebrates many of Posner and Weyl’s innovative ideas. It also concurs with their insistence that our challenging moment requires rethinking and may justify radical reconstruction of both the market’s rules of the game and its jurisdiction based on the market’s ultimate normative foundation. Posner and Weyl, however, also subscribe to a welfarist foundation and investigate some implications of taking it seriously: the creation of a radical labor market, which eliminates people’s authority to withhold their services, and a fully monetized electoral system. This Review criticizes both these implications and the welfarist foundation that motivates them. Taken to its logical extension, I argue, welfarist foundationalism threatens our endowments, citizenship, and, ultimately, our agency. I do not deny that devising measures that would further extend the ways markets facilitate people’s preference satisfaction and their welfare is a worthy endeavor. But because people’s autonomy — and not the satisfaction of their preferences or their welfare — is the ultimate value of all the major institutions of a well-ordered society, these measures cannot be acceptable if they subvert people’s self-determination.
Moreover, getting to the root of the matter, as Posner and Weyl invite us to do, requires us to appreciate the ways in which markets are conducive to people’s autonomy and redesign them accordingly. Radicalizing markets along these lines indeed implies, as Posner and Weyl claim, creating true competitive, open, and free markets. But unlike the ideal markets advocated in “Radical Markets”, the configuration of these markets starts with freedom (as autonomy) and thus inclusion, rather than with competitiveness. A proper view of the market, therefore, needs to be both careful not to facilitate autonomy-reducing transactions and mindful of the necessary role of nonmarket mechanisms in securing the minimal social and economic conditions required for the market to properly comply with its autonomy-enhancing telos.
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