The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Two exciting new books have just come out that are likely to be of great interest to readers interested in libertarianism, and political and legal theory. They are Markets Without Limits: Moral Virtues and Commercial Interests, by Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski, and Justice at a Distance: Extending Freedom Globally, by Loren Lomasky and Fernando Teson. As the titles imply, both books have a libertarian orientation. But you don't have to be a libertarian (or close to it) to agree with the authors' positions on these issues, and even those interested readers who ultimately reject the authors' conclusions can learn a lot from them.
In Markets Without Limits, Brennan and Jaworski argue that anything you should be allowed to do for free, you should also be allowed to do for money. They do not claim that markets should be completely unconstrained, merely that we should not ban any otherwise permissible transaction solely because money has been exchanged. Thus, for example, they agree that murder for hire should be illegal. But only because it should also be illegal to commit murder for free. Their thesis is also potentially compatible with a wide range of regulations of various markets to prevent fraud, deception, and the like. Nonetheless, their thesis is both radical and important. The world is filled with policies that ban selling of goods and services that can nonetheless be given away for free. Consider such cases as bans on organ markets, prostitution, and ticket-scalping. Perhaps the most notable aspects of the book are that the authors don't shy away from hard cases (see, e.g., this summary of their discussion of the sale of adoption rights), and that they thoroughly address a wide range of possible objections from both left and right. The issue addressed by the book has enormous practical significance, in addition to its theoretical importance. To take just one example, the ban on organ markets condemns thousands of people to death every year, because it leads to a severe shortage of transplantable kidneys relative to the number of people who need them.
Justice at a Distance is a timely book that addresses the extent of our obligations to the people who live beyond the borders of our nation-state. The questions addressed by the book are almost literally ripped from today's tragic headlines. In recent years, the debate over these issues has to a large extent been dominated by nationalists who believe that we have few if any such obligations, and left-liberals who contend that that rich nations have an obligation to redistribute a substantial portion of their wealth to the Third World poor. Lomasky and Teson effectively criticize both of these perspectives. They argue that, while we generally don't have an obligation to transfer wealth to the world's poor, we do have an obligation to stop impeding their efforts to better their own lot, by producing goods for international trade, and migrating to nations where they can enjoy greater freedom and opportunity. The book also addresses moral and legal issues related to humanitarian intervention, war, and even voluntary aid donations. I am inclined to agree with the authors' perspective, and have advocated a similar approach to immigration policy myself. But, as with Brennan and Jaworski's book, the great merit of this one is the extent to which it addresses a wide range of objections likely to be raised by those who, unlike me, are not inclined to sympathize with the authors' conclusions.
I plan to review both books in greater detail in the future.