1119121280William Irwin’s latest book, The Free Market Existentialist, is a novel attempt to ground libertarian political theory in existentialism.  Irwin grants the difficulty of the task before him from the outset, observing that antipathy to the free market is “one thing that . . . both the analytic and continental schools agree on,” and remarking that he may be alone among academic philosophers in advocating “free market existentialism,” the free market’s few defenders clustered in the analytic school. But despite the obstacles in his way, by the end of his book, Irwin demonstrates that his case for free market existentialism is not an exercise in futility or mere contrarianism. Indeed, in presenting the argument that libertarianism and existentialism “fit together well,” The Free Market Existentialist gives us one of the more exciting philosophical treatments of libertarianism in recent memory. Irwin more than accomplishes his goal of establishing for free market existentialism a place in the “marketplace of ideas.” He develops, in clear, absorbing prose, a compelling, if controversial, vision of libertarianism based on a wholesale “rejection of objective values,” just the kind of values (for instance, natural rights) that commonly provide the foundation for libertarian arguments.

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The book I wrote with Loren Lomasky, Justice at a Distance: Expanding Freedom Globally (Cambridge University Press), has been published after several years of germination. I blogged about the book some time ago. Here’s the description from the publisher:

The current global-justice literature starts from the premise that world poverty is the result of structural injustice mostly attributable to past and present actions of governments and citizens of rich countries. As a result, that literature recommends vast coercive transfers of wealth from rich to poor societies, alongside stronger national and international governance. Justice at a Distance, in contrast, argues that global injustice is largely home-grown and that these native restrictions to freedom lie at the root of poverty and stagnation. The book is the first philosophical work to emphasize free markets in goods, services, and labor as an ethical imperative that allows people to pursue their projects and as the one institutional arrangement capable of alleviating poverty. Supported by a robust economic literature, Justice at a Distance applies the principle of noninterference to the issues of wealth and poverty, immigration, trade, the status of nation-states, war, and aid.

For Kindle users, it is available in that format here.

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At the Princeton University Press Blog, I explain why most of his arguments don’t work.

Galston’s strategy seems to be “the more arguments the merrier” or “let’s throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks”. But, one problem with his arguments (aside from the fact that they rest upon mistaken empirical or normative premises) is that they aren’t compatible with each other:

Note, however, that Galston cannot consistently advance both the Public Goods and the Demographic Argument for Compulsory Voting. The Public Goods Argument treats voters as cooperators. One person’s vote tends to benefit others, while abstention comes at their expense. The Public Goods argument says that non-voters take advantage of voters. But the Demographic Argument treats voters as competitors. One person’s vote tends to harm other voters (by reducing the power of their vote), while abstention helps them (by strengthening the power of their vote).  The Demographic Argument assumes that non-voters advantage voters, while voters take advantage of non-voters.

At most, one of these arguments is sound. If the Public Goods Argument is sound, then when I (a privileged, upper-middle class, married, white, heterosexual, cisgendered male) abstain, most voters should be mad at me. But if the Demographic Argument is sound, then when I abstain, I do women, blacks, Latinos, the poor, the unemployed, and so on, a favor, by making it more likely the government will represent their interests rather than mine. Galston can’t have it both ways.


Take a look. 

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