The Moral Limits of Markets

Link to Google Doc

This week I finally got a book I have been waiting for, the book Markets without Limits. In it, the authors of the book, Jason Brennan and Peter M. Jaworski, argue for the position that if you can have X for free, then you can also sell and buy X. Meaning that there are no limits to markets, except for when it is morally wrong to possess X from the get go. It is an argument regarding the absolute scope of the market, what should be a market, not regarding morally correct behaviors in a market, how the market is set up.

One example of when there ought to be a limit on what can and cannot be sold is child porn, why? Because child porn is not permissible to have in the first place, which is why it is also not permissible to buy and sell child porn. No one should have it period. The thing that makes a market in child porn is not the market in itself, even though it may enhance the problem, but instead it is wrong because child porn is wrong.

To get a feel of the argument, one can think of organs, especially kidneys. In many countries there is a shortage of available kidneys, many people are waiting for kidneys but very few get them. Which eventually leads to a number of deaths every year. A legal market for organs could therefore help reducing a number of preventable deaths each year, still there are many, especially in the western world, that feel that a market in organ sales is wrong since it does not respect the sanctity of the body enough. The authors of the book, and I agree, instead that since it is morally permissible to donate kidneys for free, then it is morally permissible to do it in a market setting as well. Of course, there are problems with illegal markets for organs, but just as with marijuana markets in American states that have legalized it, they would significantly weaken if markets in organs became legal.

I have not yet finished the book, but I have long wondered why markets are so looked down upon as if it is markets themselves that make certain behaviors morally wrong or that it is markets that introduce some wrongness into certain behaviors. I do not believe that prostitution is morally wrong in itself, instead I think the fact that pimps “own” the women is what makes prostitution wrong. Selling or buying sex between two consenting adults is morally permissible. Just as much as two consenting adults having sex for free is morally permissible.

Here it is also needed to clarify, it is possible to be logically consistent while believing in the no moral limits to markets, as described above, and at the same time believing that markets may be regulated to work properly. As in the example with organs, one may believe that organs ought to be for sale and that the market for organs should be highly regulated. The question of the limits of markets does not concern itself with how the markets are set up.

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