My contribution to the Cato Unbound symposium on Brennan and Jaworski's "Markets without Limits"


The Cato Unbound website has just posted my contribution to their symposium on Georgetown political philosophers Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski's excellent new book Markets without Limits: Moral Virtues and Commercial Interests. Here's an excerpt that summarizes the points I make:

Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski's Markets without Limits is a powerful defense of the proposition that anything we should be allowed to do for free, we should also be allowed to do for pay. The transfer of money does not magically render an otherwise defensible activity immoral.

I agree with Brennan and Jaworski's central thesis, and with most of their specific arguments as well. In this response essay, I focus on some extensions of their core argument, in which I explain how several standard arguments for banning various markets are not only arbitrary, but also based on internally contradictory assumptions.

I also explore an area where I disagree with a part of the authors' analysis: their defense of vote-buying in elections. While they are right to suggest that there are logically conceivable circumstances where vote-buying should be permitted, such situations seem highly unlikely to occur in the real world. On balance, a categorical ban on vote-buying is likely superior to any realistically feasible alternative. But the somewhat unusual reasons for this limitation on Brennan and Jaworski's argument underscore its basic soundness in other cases.

The symposium will continue throughout the month, as the authors and commentators respond to each other. Cato Unbound has already posted a a critique of the book by prominent political theorist Benjamin Barber, to which Jason Brennan responded here.

NOTE: Some parts of the Cato Unbound essay expand on points I made in my earlier review of Markets without Limits here at the Volokh Conspiracy.