Most people now agree we should have a market-based economy. But, they say, certain things ought to be kept off the market. We may buy and sell pencils, food, football, and education, but it is wrong to buy and sell sex, kidneys, pregnancy surrogacy, standing-in-line services, or bets on terrorist attacks.We disagree. The central thesis of our book, Markets without Limits, is that anything you may permissibly do for free, you may permissibly do for money. There are things you may not sell, such as child pornography, human slaves, or nuclear weapons, but only because you may not have these things in the first place. In special cases, we can’t sell certain things to certain people—e.g., I should not sell you a baseball bat when you’re in a murderous rage, even though baseball bats are the kind of thing that may be bought and sold. Otherwise, everything is fair game.Critics of commodification—of the process of putting things that were not previously for sale on the market—have produced an impressive array of objections to buying and selling various goods and services. These include:1. Exploitation: Buying and selling certain goods—such as sex—might take pernicious advantage of others’ misfortune.2. Misallocation: Buying and selling certain goods—such as “free” tickets to “Shakespeare in the Park”—might cause the goods to be distributed unfairly.3. Corruption: Buying and selling certain goods—such as violent video games or pornography—might cause us to have bad attitudes, beliefs, or character.4. Harm: Buying and selling certain goods—such as naming rights for children—might harm people.5. Semiotic: Buying and selling certain goods—such as kidneys—might express wrongful attitudes, or violate the meaning of the good in question, or might be incompatible with the intrinsic dignity of some activity, thing, or person.In Markets without Limits, we systematically debunk multiple instances of each these kinds of objections (as well as others). We try to show that there are no principled objections to markets….The interesting questions about markets are not what we may buy and sell, but instead how we should buy and sell it. Certain ways of buying and selling things might be wrong, but that does not mean the thing in question must never be bought or sold.
November 13, 2015 at 11:00 AM EST