A First Look at Markets without Limits

Georgetown University professors Jason Brennan and Pete Jaworski (left) have a new book out with a fascinating premise: anything that it is morally permissible to do in the absence of money should be permissible to do for a monetary exchange. Or, as they put it themselves, “if you may do it for free, you may do it for money.”

There are plenty of examples that come immediately to mind that challenge this premise—disapproval of prostitution (you’re free to have sex with another consenting adult—just not for money!) and the ban on compensating individuals who donate their organs, for example. The authors take on objections like these while also considering less common scenarios, such as whether one should be able to sell one’s vote in an election or conduct betting pools on terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

The book is fresh off the presses, so a full review is still forthcoming, but it has garnered advance praise from economists like Pete Boettke and Tyler Cowen of George Mason University and Michael Munger of Duke. While you wait for your own copy to arrive from your online retailer of choice, treat yourself to a bite-sized version of Jason and Pete’s argument on the Foundation for Economic Education’s Anything Peaceful blog:

To put in a more long-winded way, if you may have, use, possess, and dispose of something (that does not belong to someone else) for free, then — except in special circumstances — it is permissible for you to buy and sell it.

Another way of expressing our thesis is that the market does not transform what were permissible acts into impermissible acts. It does not introduce wrongness where there was not any already.

Yet another way of expressing this is that, in the debate on commodification, to produce a successful argument for a limit on markets, the fact that something is on the market must cause or contribute to the wrongness. It must feature in an explanation for why it is wrong.

For more from Jason Brennan, check out the video of his excellent lecture “Capitalism, Marxism, and the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” hosted by the Ed Snider Center for Enterprise & Markets at the University of Maryland.