Changing, Not Balancing, the Market: 'Economic' Politics and 'Social' Programs

33 Pages Posted: 17 Oct 2005

Date Written: June 30, 2004


Arguments about market principles have helped to defeat or constrain virtually every progressive or liberal policy and law reform in the last several decades. In defense of progressive political projects, supporters typically aim to show how various social programs either complement the market (as social redistribution) or conform to the market (as efficiency promoting corrections of market failures). This paper argues for a different approach to defending progressive political and legal projects, explaining that the very division between market and non-market goals is a problematic political strategy with no logical coherence. The metaphor of the market serves to place certain constraints on progressive political and legal goals beyond political and analytical questioning, turning those constraints into natural (or supernatural) law. Even though many legal scholars and policymakers give lip service to the idea that markets and states are thoroughly entangled, many are nonetheless content to place much of the responsibility for a world of hideous inequality and violence on market forces that elude human agency and interest. Instead of taking sides in the divides of market/non-market, efficiency/redistribution, or economic/social goals, progressives should ask what kinds of markets, in whose interests, deserve public support? Using the examples of AFDC (now TANF) and workers' compensation, I show how progressives could better defend progressive policies by adopting an approach focusing on changing, not balancing, the market. This essay adapts and develops arguments in my longer article, Efficiency and Social Citizenship: Challenging the Neoliberal Attack on the Welfare State, 78 Indiana L.J. 783 (2003).

Keywords: law and economics, labor, welfare state, poverty, globalization, critical legal studies, workers compensation

Suggested Citation

McCluskey, Martha T., Changing, Not Balancing, the Market: 'Economic' Politics and 'Social' Programs (June 30, 2004). Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 2005-05. Available at SSRN: or

Martha T. McCluskey (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716-645-2326 (Phone)
716-645-2064 (Fax)

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