Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

Externalities of commodification: towards a new legal moralism?

Bertrand Elodie, CNRS

(This proposal is part of a session proposal on "Law & Economics in Practice") The discourse against the commodification of certain things (in economics, law, and philosophy) uses, among others, arguments that boil down to the presence of externalities: the mere existence of such sales would affect other people directly (who are injured by addicted drivers or who care about dignity) (Roth 2007) or affect what they are and how they act, their personhood, capacities, and preferences (e.g., Radin 1996, Satz 2010). Taking externalities as obstacles to efficiency and justice, I will distinguish four of them that justify market-inalienability. The first are traditional technological, i.e. physical, externalities, with which welfare economics is concerned. The second are moral externalities, considered in some parts of social choice theory and law and economics (esp. Calabresi 2016). Third, pecuniary externalities clearly pose distributional problems. Finally, societal externalities are perceived as modifying either norms and preferences or status and capacities. I will argue that some anti-commodification arguments can be framed in this externality framework. One of the interests of this reinterpretation is to detail the risk of legal moralism faced by anti-commodification arguments, especially the different levels at which such a moralism is at work.

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Keywords: markets, economic philosophy of law

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