Liberalism, Commodification, and Justice – Politics, Philosophy & Economics – article

Liberalism, Commodification, and Justice

Vida Panitch | Politics, Philosophy & Economics


Anti-commodification theorists condemn liberal political philosophers for not being able to justify restricting a market transaction on the basis of what is sold, but only on the basis of how it is sold. The anti-commodification theorist is correct that if this were all the liberal had to say in the face of noxious markets, it would be inadequate: even if everyone has equal bargaining power and no one is misled, there are some goods that should not go to the highest bidder. In this paper, I respond to the anti-commodification critique of liberalism by arguing that the political liberal has the wherewithal to account not only for the conditions under which goods should not be sold, but also for what kinds of goods should not be for sale in a market economy. The political liberal can appeal to a principle of equal basic rights, and to one of sufficiency in basic needs and the social bases of self-respect, I argue, to account for what’s problematic about markets in civic goods, necessary goods, and physical goods including body parts and intimate services.


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