John Tomasi – Bleeding Heart Libertarians Free Markets and Social Justice Wed, 21 Feb 2018 18:00:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 John Tomasi – Bleeding Heart Libertarians 32 32 22756168 Does Market Democracy Sanction Class Domination? Mon, 15 Dec 2014 20:23:05 +0000 Free Market Fairness (FMF) presents a fusionist theory of liberal justice, one affirming both private economic liberty and social justice. I call this market democracy. In a symposium on FMF...

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Free Market Fairness (FMF) presents a fusionist theory of liberal justice, one affirming both private economic liberty and social justice. I call this market democracy.

In a symposium on FMF hosted by Critical Review, a new objection has been arisen against market democracy, the objection that market democracy sanctions class domination. This objection is raised explicitly by Annie Stilz, but I think it underlies several other critiques as well (most notably those of Joseph Carens, Samuel Arnold, and Alex Gourevitch).

I shall present the objection about class domination by way of an example. The example my own, but I think it makes vivid the worry raised by Stilz. One path of response, which I sketch below, would involve a significant revision to market democracy. I would be interested to hear what BHL readers think of this problem, and how they think market democracy could best answer it.

Imagine a person named George living in a market democracy that I will call Alpha Land. George, let’s imagine, rose from nothing to become a hedge fund titan. Central to George’s life plan is the ambition to establish his family as a dynasty. Using his great wealth, George makes large gifts to the most elite university in the land, Alpha University, in order to help his children gain admittance. George also makes large bequests to his children and grandchildren, enabling them, in turn, to help their children and grandchildren to gain admittance to Alpha University when the time comes. And let’s imagine that George is not the only person in this market democracy with dynastic ambitions. Let’s say that most, or all, of the students who gain admission to Alpha University come from families with great wealth. With the superior education they receive there, and through the contacts they make, the graduates of Alpha University come to constitute an elite class in the society. The very most desirable positions in industry, science, art and political life are most always held by Alpha alums.

Further, let’s imagine that all the requirements of my market democratic conception of social justice, free market fairness, are satisfied in Alpha Land. Along with liberty of association and expression, for example, the constitution Alpha Land protects thick private economic liberties of labor and ownership. What’s more, Alpha grads are well-trained, and so achieve great success as leaders of the great industries and institutes of their country. Alpha Land thus enjoys an exceptionally high rate of growth so that, over time (say, over the course of a generation or two) the least advantaged members of Alpha Land enjoy better opportunities and have more private wealth than would have been available in any other regime type (as required by the social justice component of market democracy, recall).

However, and here is the objection, this success comes at a price. While opportunities and benefits are maximized to the least well-off, the top positions in society are effectively closed to members of that class. Further, the members of this lower class are aware of this. The basic institutions have been arranged so that they can do very well, but they know that a certain strata of social positions is effectively closed to them. The horizons of their dreams for themselves and their children are thus curtailed. We can point out to them that the social arrangements of Alpha Land maximize their position compared to that available to them in rival regimes. Still they have doubts about themselves and, specifically, about their standing as fully free and equal members of their society. They live in a system of class domination (or at least, note, of class division). Being aware of this, their self-respect, which includes their confidence in the worth of their own life-plans, is eroded.

Would universities such as Alpha collude with wealthy people such as George in giving coveted admission slots to children from wealthy families? Maybe not. But in a market democracy such as Alpha Land, I imagine that universities would mainly be private. They would not receive the tax exemptions that have allowed private universities in the United States to amass their huge endowments. But, let’s say, within market democracy these private schools would have wide freedom to admit students according to their own criteria. Competing against Beta University and other strong schools, it seems plausible to imagine the trustees of Alpha directing the admissions office to consider wealth when selecting each year’s incoming class.

What are we to make of this? One response is to deny that class domination such as this could arise or long endure within a (fully just) market democratic institutional scheme. Free markets unleash creative destruction and new elites rise meteorically to overtake the elites of a generation before. Still, given Alpha University’s king-maker role in this society, I think it is plausible to imagine class domination to persist in Alpha Land, even granted that the elite class will occasionally be joined by some parvenues (such as our friend George).

Alternatively, we might respond by pressing the distinction between class division and class domination. As formulated in FMF, market democracy accepts the Rawlsian idea that the political liberties have special status and so must be guaranteed at their “fair value.” In FMF, I explain how market democracy satisfies this stringent test (247-254). So if the worry is that Alpha alums politically dominate their fellow citizens, market democracy already has resources to explain why domination of that sort is objectionable. I could say much more here but I will just say that I find this unsatisfying. Even if the objection is only based on class division (and not political domination), the worries about self-respect raised by the example seem serious. I believe those worries are not adequately answered within market democracy as formulated in FMF.

Another response is to idealize up and away from the objection. The great good of social justice need not be achievable in all social contexts and at all times. If social justice is not achievable in some set of social conditions, that in itself is no mark against social justice. If the social conditions of Alpha Land really are such that they allow simultaneously for the satisfaction of all the requirements of free market fairness and for the creation of an elite class, then we might simply say, with regret, that the great good of social justice is not achievable under that set of social conditions. I believe that a technical defense of free market fairness could be mounted on these grounds, leaving intact all the main specifications of market democracy as I laid them out in FMF. However, frankly, that approach seems to me a dodge. Market democracy would be stronger, and more attractive, if we can adjust its criteria so as to provide a direct response to the worry about class domination that Stilz and others have raised.

How might we do this? One option is to adjust free market fairness so as to allow rules that limit the freedom of people like George to make gifts to elite universities (and other elite-forming organizations or clubs), or rules that prevent places like Alpha from amassing their great endowments. Since, as I am imagining in my example, market democracy does not grant private universities tax exemptions, it already contains features that at least do not encourage the building up of such endowments. But there are many types of organization and club that can aid in the formation of an elite class such as we see in Alpha Land. So this path would lead to imposing pervasive restrictions on people’s economic liberty. We cannot take this route without making great changes to the base of market democracy.

The other option, of course, is to adjust market democracy so as to limit the freedom of people such as George to make bequests to their children. On balance, I believe that this option coheres better with the core commitment of market democracy to respect all citizens as free and equal authors of their own lives. So I am open to adjusting my account of thick economic liberty so as to allow rules that would limit people’s liberties to make bequests. Specifically, I now believe that market democracy should be formulated so as to allow the state to impose substantially progressive tax rates on transfers of wealth between generations.

Market democracy is born from a sincere commitment to make room for the reasonable life plans of liberal citizens. The market democratic paradigm stresses the importance to people of making economic choices that are basic to their own life plans, an aspect of freedom that is systematically neglected under social democratic accounts of justice. However, this does not mean that market democracy must make room for every life plan simply because it includes an economic element. Dynastic ambitions such as those of people like George run against the market democratic commitment to treat all citizens as free and equal moral beings. Market democracy is not committed to social structures that make full room for people to fulfill such ambitions.

Let’s return to my claim in FMF that people have a basic liberty regarding the private ownership of property (personal and productive). We can think of this liberty as a bundle of elements protecting the freedom of people to own, use and control property as they think best. That liberty, like all the other basic liberties, has a central range of application. That range is defined in terms of its significance, that is, the strength of its connection to the development and exercise of the moral powers. Under market democracy, the moral powers are the capacity of citizens for self-authorship, and their capacity to respect all of their fellow citizens as self-authors too. To protect the most significant aspects of the right to property, and to craft that basic liberty so that it works as a component part of the other basic liberties considered as a set, it may be necessary to scale back on some dimensions of the right to property that we protect. So I am open to adjusting my account of the right to property so as to remove the liberty of citizens to pass on great wealth free of any substantial tax. If I take this route, this would be a significant revision to market democracy.

How significant is this revision? Well, a central feature of property-owning democracy, one of the two institutional ideals affirmed by social democracy recall, is steeply progressive taxes on intergenerational transfers of wealth. If we adjust market democracy so as to allow progressively rated taxes on bequests (and perhaps inheritances), does this mean that market democratic institutional forms go rushing toward the ideal of property-owning democracy?

The answer to this question, perhaps surprising to people sympathetic to the market democratic program, is: Yes. But the adjustment that I mention would point us towards distinctive, economic liberty-friendly interpretations of property-owning democracy. This is the tradition of property-owning democracy affirmed by political leaders such as Margaret Thatcher. I am open to market democracy’s being developed in this direction. Indeed, this suggests a new set of contributions that might be made by people working within the market democratic framework: the revival, and development, of the market friendly and economic liberty-affirming tradition of property-owning democracy. Call this property-owning democracy, free market style.

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Reply to Will Wilkinson: Hayekian Free Market Fairness Sat, 23 Jun 2012 19:29:41 +0000 [Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium,...

The post Reply to Will Wilkinson: Hayekian Free Market Fairness appeared first on Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

[Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium, click here.]

Will Wilkinson’s subtle and probing contribution to this symposium asks: how Hayekian is Free Market Fairness? The answer depends in part on what we think it means to be Hayekian. But it also depends on what one takes the project of Free Market Fairness to be. I focus here on the former question, but begin with a word about the latter.

I have two main goals in Free Market Fairness. First, and perhaps ultimately most important, I try to open up conceptual space for the launching of what I call a market democratic research program. The accounts of social justice that we inherited from theorists working in the late 20th century share a moral defect: they neglect the importance of private economic liberty. But, I suggest, many of these once-left-liberal theories might be “market democratized” and thus morally improved. These accounts of liberal justice would be improved because they would combine a commitment to private economic liberty with a commitment to distributive justice. Such new accounts of liberal justice might be built up from a variety of different moral footings, and the arguments for them could be run on a variety of different argumentative levels (i.e. less idealized, more idealized, etc.).

The general point, though, is that Nozickian libertarianism has no claim to be forever enshrined as the only market-friendly alternative to left liberalism. There are classical liberal accounts of great technical sophistication that might be developed too. Jason Brennan and I call this (hoped-for) revival of classical liberalism “neo-classical liberalism.” In Free Market Fairness, I hope to give courage to anyone drawn to the project of neo-classical liberalism.

Second, and partly in service to that first goal, I offer a detailed argument for a particular market democratic conception of justice, the view that I call free market fairness. This is a market-democratized interpretation of a familiar approach to justice that has become known in recent decades as justice as fairness (though this approach actually germinated much earlier, at LSE in the 1940’s, on which see below).

Now, whatever one thinks it means to be Hayekian, I hope its clear that there is nothing necessarily anti-Hayekian about the first project. In terms of his institutional recommendations, Hayek was a classical liberal rather than a libertarian—a fact that famously vexed Ludwig von Mises, among others.  So my suggestion that contemporary scholars should seek to develop more sophisticated (extra-economic) justifications for Hayek-like classical liberal institutional recommendations should ruffle no feathers. Indeed, by inviting scholars to take Hayek’s institutional recommendations seriously, I would hope this suggestion might smooth them.

But what about my second project? Wilkinson suggests that this project looks more Rawlsian than Hayekian. Indeed, some might think, that project looks early-Rawlsian, the Rawls of A Theory of Justice. This is the Kantian Rawls. And the ambitions of the early-Rawls, especially when viewed in the light of the late-Hayek (that is, the Hayek of Law, Legislation and Liberty) look acutely un-Hayekian. This is the Humean Hayek. My arguments for free market fairness assume the coherence of seeking to identify a philosophical standard, strongly insulated from actual social practices, that might be used to evaluate those practices. My argument assumes the coherence of searching for norms of justice, founded in reason rather than in historical practices, a standard that might be philosophically constructed rather than simply “tumbled upon” though our observation of historical processes of cultural evolution. And if there is anything that anti-Hayekian, it’s that!

Ummm…not so fast. True, as Wilkinson notes, Hayek is “an ardent Humean.” True, as he notes, Hayek sees social rules as appropriately emerging from a process of cultural evolution. True, in Wilkinson’s elegant formulation, “Hayek believes that the rule-bound texture of social life is much subtler than we are inclined to imagine, and that the basis of our social order is to some extent inscrutable.” But what’s the implication from this? Wilkinson writes: “If he’s [Hayek’s] right, this doesn’t bode well for the prospects of political theorizing that attempts to transcend the facts and constraints of the contingent current disposition.”

The problem, however, is that, though ardent, Hayek is not purely Humean. While Hayek emphasizes that the basis of our social order is to some extent inscrutable, he does not consider that basis wholly inscrutable. And while he warns of us the dangers of theorizing in ways that transcend existing social facts and practices, he does not reject such forms of theorizing. On the contrary, Hayek necessarily engages in precisely those forms of reasoning himself.

There are some moments when the (late-) Hayek takes a constructivist approach to the problem of social evaluation. And as readers of Free Market Fairness know, I see those constructivist elements as being absolutely essential to Hayek’s political philosophy. They provide deep moral struts upon which the coral of Hayekian spontaneous orders can be productively grown.

In the preface to volume 2 of Law, Legislation and Liberty, a volume mischievously entitled The Mirage of Social Justice, Hayek notes that, while he was completing his book, John Rawls had published his landmark (and most Kantian) work, A Theory of Justice. And Hayek tells his readers that he decided not to include an extended discussion of Rawls’s theory because, despite what he expects to be the first impression of many readers, the differences between Hayek’s general conception of liberal justice and that of Rawls are “more verbal than substantive.” Later in the book, after sharply criticizing the way the term “social justice” is used in popular political discussions, Hayek affirms his commitment to the coherence of social justice as a concept: “there unquestionably also exists a genuine problem of justice in connection with the deliberate design of political institutions, the problem to which Professor John Rawls has recently devoted an important book.” [Note: for citation information, and for my fuller discussion of these passages, see Chapter 5 of FMF, “Social Justicitis,” esp. the section “Benadryl for Free-Marketeers” pp 151-160.]

About the same time that Hayek wrote those words, Robert Nozick was writing his oft-discussed critique of Rawls, a critique based on Nozick’s claim that Rawls was advocating a “patterned” conception of social justice. But Hayek, perhaps unlike Nozick, had closely studied Rawls’s early articles and so understood that Rawls did not claim that justice was a standard of evaluation for particular distributive outcome. Such an approach, (the earliest-)Rawls had argued, was incoherent. Instead, justice was a standard that must be applied, not to particular distributions (what Nozick criticized as the “time-slice” approach), but holistically to whole sets of institutions as they tend to function through time. And it is that problem of justice that Hayek—just like Rawls—understood there to be a genuine philosophical problem that needed to be solved.

Unnoticed by contemporary scholars, however, is that Hayek, again like Rawls, proposed a constructivist procedure of his own intended to solve that problem. Hayek’s idea, to put it into contemporary language, was to find a device of representation that might model our commitment to treating all citizens fairly. Here is Hayek’s formulation: “we should regard as the most desirable order of society the one that we would choose if we knew that our initial position in it would be determined purely by chance (such as the fact of being born into a particular family).”

As I describe in Free Market Fairness, Hayek says that he first begin thinking about justice this way because of a personal experience. As a young man in London during the bombing, Hayek needed to send his children abroad for their safety. Since there was a good chance that he might be killed, this meant that, whatever society his children ended up in, he could not even know that they would have the advantages (such as they are) of being raised in the family of a professor. That real experience stimulated Hayek to begin thinking about fairness, and thus to develop the decision procedure I just mentioned.

[Note: Hayek says that he developed this decision-approach in the early 1940’s, which would mean some thirty years before Rawls. If Hayek was first to think of the “original position,” is Rawls’s more famous device thus rendered “the unoriginal original position”? Hayek also suggests that the appropriate decision rule to ascribe to parties reasoning about political norms under uncertainty was a version of expected-utility maximization: the most desirable social order is the one that would maximize the chance that each person could use his local information to achieve ends known only to himself. Does Hayek, rather than (along with?) John Harsanyi, deserve credit for that important suggestion too?].

Does Wilkinson believe that these constructivist struts can be simply ripped out? Is Hayekian justice simply whatever evolves through our social practices? In Free Market Fairness, I suggest otherwise.  Like the (late-)Hayek, and decades later, the (early-)Rawls, I think constructivism has an important place in the defense of the free society. Free market fairness is a foundationally Hayekian view.


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Reply to Deirdre McCloskey: Normative Free Market Fairness Fri, 22 Jun 2012 17:13:11 +0000 [Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium,...

The post Reply to Deirdre McCloskey: Normative Free Market Fairness appeared first on Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

[Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium, click here.]

In her fascinating and pyrotechnic contribution to this symposium, “Factual Free Market Fairness,” Deirdre McCloskey identifies a set of factual assumptions that she says lie behind (orthodox) thinking in the high liberal tradition.

In McCloskey’s words: “Modern life is complicated, so we need government to regulate. Government can do so well, and will not regularly be corrupted. Since markets fail very frequently the government should step in to fix them. Without a big government we cannot do certain noble things…” and so on. McCloskey sees two contributors to this symposium, Elizabeth Anderson and Samuel Freeman, as basing their critiques of Free Market Fairness on this set of factual assumptions.

However, McCloskey says this master narrative is factually mistaken: “Externalities do not imply that government can do better. Publicity does better than inspectors in restraining the alleged desire of business people to poison their customers.” And so forth. McCloskey offers a quick sketch of Western economic history intended to suggest that the main lines of the narrative on which high liberals rely are false. She encourages Anderson and Freeman, and indeed anyone drawn to (orthodox) high liberalism, to rethink the factual assumptions that undergird their political outlook.

I am told that many thousands of people have visited the Bleeding Heart Libertarians site since the posting of McCloskey’s essay (I mean, many thousands more than the many thousands already regularly visiting). Even a glance through the comments section shows the intense interest people have in the factual questions upon which McCloskey has taken a bold and forthright stand.  Those factual questions are indeed politically loaded, and thus the importance of those factual questions to our understanding of political life is beyond any doubt.

In Free Market Fairness, of course, I am concerned with a different kind of question. But this question is just as politically loaded as the factual one McCloskey addresses, indeed it is even more politically loaded. And yet this question is less familiar and so in some ways is harder to get one’s hands on. That question is this: disputes about the factual histories and realities of all existing societies aside, what is the best form of political organization? Or slightly more precisely, I ask: what sorts of political and economic structures might make it possible for people to live together in a way that would most fully respect them all as free and equal authors of their own lives?

This is a normative question, rather than a purely factual one. Philosophers see this question as being addressed within the domain of “ideal theory”, a domain within which one abstracts away from facts about what people actually do in particular societies in order to ask about what people ought to do. Different philosophers see political normativity as requiring different mixes of is-ness and ought-ness. Readers interested to learn about my own preferred mix can find it laid out in FMF (esp. “Realistic Utopianism” 203-214, and “Aims and Guarantees” 215-225).

But who cares? How could that strange question I asked be political loaded? And how could anyone possibly think that this question could be more politically loaded than the obviously loaded factual question that McCloskey so trenchantly and provocatively set before us in her post?

The normative question invites us to take a stand about what form of social and economic order is morally best. For many decades, people on the political left have been very comfortable when political conversations turned to this question. Maybe in this messy world, or at this stage of economic development, economic liberties and bourgeois virtues have some value. But that value is purely instrumental (see my critique of Keynes on this point, 43-4, 182-4). When we want to know how people should live together, or what institutions might best show the respect they have (or might have) for one another, then every (non-egoist) knows that we should look in the direction of the European social democracies or, perhaps higher still, to the ideal of socialism.

Many people, and especially those who work within the democratic tradition, go to sleep at night comforted by the belief that there is cluster of normative stars, high in the sky, twinkling somewhere above the social democracies of northern Europe. Anyone concerned to make their own society more socially just, such people sleepily suppose, should take their bearings from that cluster of stars. They should work to elect politicians and support political parties committed to making their society more like the societies nestled beneath that social democratic ideal. Anyone who stands in their way, for example by arguing for greater respect for thick private economic liberty, or for principles of constitutionally limited government, must be called out and sternly corrected. After all, the advocates of private economic liberty are the enemies of social justice.

It is that set of assumptions, the moral assumptions undergirding high liberalism, that I set out to challenge in Free Market Fairness. I do this by pointing to a different and higher moral constellation. This is a constellation that, to the surprise of some, hangs in the sky above the United States of America (or at least, above a dream that was once vivid to many ordinary working people who travelled hard miles to reach that place). It is an ideal of a truly commercial society, a place where citizens are committed to respecting the economic liberties of their fellow citizens, not as moral absolutes, but as protectors of one of the most important domains of personal self-authorship. It is an ideal committed to distributive justice, not so much by the agencies of that state, but by a form of spontaneous order. This order allows every working citizen to look upon the special talents of his fellow citizens, not as weapons to be feared, but as in some sense a common bounty. This is the constellation of views that I call market democratic. Within that constellation, I point to a particular star that I believe is the highest and brightest of them all: free market fairness.

So I welcome the vigorous discussion about political facts that Deirdre has stimulated with her epic post. But when the dust from that dispute settles, the normative star of free market fairness will still be up there, hanging high in the sky. And as long as free market fairness holds its position in the sky, it will continue to urge democratic citizens to re-think their assumptions about what direction they should steer, if they truly long to make their societies more just.

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Reply to Elizabeth Anderson: Part II, Workplace Democracy Wed, 20 Jun 2012 21:12:37 +0000 [Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium,...

The post Reply to Elizabeth Anderson: Part II, Workplace Democracy appeared first on Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

[Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium, click here.]

Elizabeth Anderson accepts the central thesis of Free Market Fairness: the set of basic economic liberties should be thickened beyond the orthodox high liberal set. Nonetheless, Anderson believes that this thickened set of basic economic liberties should be heavily regulated. In this post, I reconstruct and examine Anderson’s argument regarding economic liberty in the workplace.

Anderson’s argument:

II. THAT: the economic rules of workplaces within market democracy should be heavily regulated.

II.1) The exercise of some categories of basic liberty, unless that exercise is heavily regulated, will create structures of hierarchy in domains within which structures of hierarchy are objectionable.

II.2) The private ownership rights of market democracy, unless heavily regulated, will create structures of hierarchy within the workplace.

II.3) The workplace is an area in which structures of hierarchy are objectionable.

II.4) Workplaces within market democracy should be heavily regulated.

As before, let’s stipulate throughout that should be “heavily regulated” means should be more heavily regulated than in my classical liberal scheme. I have no settled view about I.1), so I grant it arguendo. But what of II.2)?

According to II.2), the scheme of economic liberties I defend in FMF, unless more heavily regulated than I would allow, will create objectionable hierarchies in the workplace. Now, it may appear that Anderson and I have a significant disagreement here. Indeed, to borrow a phrase, in her post Anderson “reserves special opprobrium” for my suggestion that individual workers have rights to decide for themselves many of the terms and conditions on which they are willing to work—including questions about wages, hours to be worked, and many but not all questions about conditions (for example, market democracy allows workplaces to be regulated for safety in some cases). By contrast, Anderson denies that workers have these rights. Instead, she argues that for extensive labor regulations, including regulations setting maximum hours and minimum wages and, apparently, much more.

Note: In his contribution to this symposium, Samuel Freeman suggests that I misunderstand labor regulations, such as those setting maximum hours. According to Freeman, “The restriction on hours is not a restriction on workers but on employers from exercising duress over workers.” Anderson appears to share this view. But when did we agree to evaluate regulations solely by considering the (alleged) intentions of the advocates of those regulations? Rules that limit work hours, whatever the intentions of their advocates, do restrict the ability of individual workers. After all, such workers may, for their own reasons, wish to work more hours than stipulated by the regulation.  A worker who wishes to work more than the mandated maximum may not have the opportunity to work more at his job because his employer may not be able to afford the mandatory overtime pay stipulated by the regulation. Or that hours-regulation may force that worker to apply for, commute to, and negotiate a schedule for some second job. So maximum hours rules clearly impinge upon the formal rights and liberties of working as I describe them in FMF. (Such regulations may also impinge on the economic rights of business owners, but I leave that aside.)

Now, Anderson says that without such restrictions and regulations, workplaces will become sites of tyranny and domination. She claims that entry-level workers in particular have few employment options. So employers can effectively compel such people to endure all manner of abuse in the workplace. Supervisors may prohibit workers from urinating during work hours, spy on them in the bathroom, forbid them from speaking foreign languages, fire them for their sexual orientation or their political beliefs, forbid them from complaining, and require that they wear certain kinds of clothing. Without heavy regulation, workplaces become psychologically and physically hazardous to the workers.

Of course, when Anderson claims that labor markets generate these bad effects she is making (broadly) empirical assertions. Some readers of this blog, no doubt, would reject Anderson’s reading of labor history and her description of the plight of contemporary wage-laborers in America. Some might point out that, in a competitive market, companies must compete against each other to hire and retain the most competent workforce. Further, there is some evidence that companies that do well in the long haul tend to be ones that think hard about ways to make the experience of work personally meaningful to their workers. And, even on the assumption that the interests of management is hostile to the physical and psychological well-being of their workers, the fact that workers have a right of exit puts a significant limit on how bad that alleged physical and psychological abuse in the workplace can be (a point many readers emphasize in the comments section to Anderson’s essay).

Fortunately, to assess my argument for economic liberty in Free Market Fairness, we have no need to settle such empirical debates. For in that book, I seek to answer a different kind of question. Abstracting from the complicated facts of particular societies, my hope is to identify the institutional forms that might best express the commitment of citizens to live together as free and equal self-governing agents. My main thesis, of course, is that market democratic regime-types—democratic laissez-faire and democratic limited government—express that moral commitment more completely and more attractively than do social democratic ones—liberal socialism and property-owning democracy. So my argument is an exercise of normative identification that is conducted at the level of ideal theory.

Of course, Anderson is free to object to my interpretation and application of ideal theory, the argument for which I set out carefully in my book (203-215). But Anderson has stated no such objection. So if we are to interpret Anderson’s critique to be assessing my arguments, her objections must be interpreted as running on the same level of abstraction on which my arguments run.

Viewed that way, however, it seems that Anderson and I agree yet again. After all, I can easily imagine sets of (historically possible) background conditions within which the individual liberties of working that I defend could in fact leave workers vulnerable to coercive abuses of the sorts that worry Anderson. Imagine, for example, an economy in a phase of long-term contraction, with a low base of capital, in which workers effectively have no choice but to keep their current job, no matter how nasty. It could happen. In such unfavorable background conditions, the market democratic regime types I defend, perhaps, might not realize the moral standard that I call free market fairness. Indeed, things might possibly even turn out as bad as what Anderson describes. But this is no objection to my view. Unfortunately, there may well be social conditions in which the lofty moral ideals of free market fairness cannot be achieved.

However, I can also imagine sets of (historically possible) background conditions within which the individual liberties of working that I defend would in fact not leave workers vulnerable. Instead those liberties would free them to live the fullest possible lives together, each according to his own values. Imagine, for example, an economy in a period of long-term expansion, with a large base of capital, in which workers can easily find work elsewhere if the terms and conditions of their current job no longer satisfy them. That could happen too. In such conditions, my market democratic regime types would realize all the moral requirements of free market fairness.

Now I suppose that Anderson could deny this. She might claim that market economies always lead to reduced capital accumulation and long-term economic contraction. Thus the right to decide for oneself how many hours to work could never be morally valuable to citizens. But such a claim seems highly implausible. And, anyhow, Anderson makes no such claim.

So, at the level of ideal theory, Anderson’s claims about existing working conditions in America do nothing to impugn my arguments for thick economic liberty.  Viewed through the lens of ideal theory, Anderson’s claims give us no reason to believe that the economic liberties of market democracy, unless heavily regulated, will create (read: will create even under the most favorable but realistically-possible background conditions) structures of hierarchy in the workplace.

However, there is a different way to interpret II.2). And this interpretation brings us to the heart of the matter. For this reading would indeed generate a split between Anderson and market democracy.

Anderson sometimes indicates her personal approval of workplace democracy. Within democratic workplace structures, workers directly make management decisions themselves, or elect representatives to serve as managers and supervisors.

According to II.2), recall, the private ownership rights of market democracy, unless heavily regulated, will create structures of hierarchy within the workplace. What if Anderson does more than personally admire democratic workplaces? What if she is so taken with that workplace form that she insists that every workplace must be structured that way? In non-democratic or “wage-labor” relations, let’s say, workplace managers are chosen (or promoted through the ranks) by owners and other superiors, rather than being elected by the workers to represent them. In such workplaces, the workers take their orders from the managers, but the managers do not take their orders from the workers. In a technical sense, at least, wage-labor relations are hierarchical. So perhaps the phrase “structures of domination” in II.2) refers to any workplace structure that is non-democratic.

Now, the market democratic regimes that I defend in FMF, even viewed through the lens of ideal theory, do indeed allow wage-labor (among other forms of workplace organization, including democratic ones). Interpreted this way then, I must accept premise II.2). The thick economic liberties of market democracy create structures of hierarchy in the workplace.

So it turns out that the entire weight of Anderson’s argument against market democracy falls on premise II.3). We must hold constant our interpretation of “structures of hierarchy” to mean (nondemocratic) wage-labor. So, to object to market democracy, Anderson must claim that non-democratic workplaces are objectionable. And the regulations that she must advocate are regulations that would forbid workplaces organized that way.  So, at the level of ideal theory, justice requires the prohibition of wage-labor. All workplaces must be democratically controlled.

Does Anderson really wish to defend this extreme thesis? It doesn’t look like it. Anderson writes: “I’m not arguing that workers intrinsically prefer “meaningful work” in workplace democracy, as social democrats suppose, over maximum pay, which Tomasi prefers.” She is referring here to the second main argument of FMF, where I defend an interpretation of the difference principle based on the idea that workers are more appropriately empowered by increases in their pay rather than by regulations imposing democratic work structures on them all (p 184-192). So that looks promising.

But in a footnote to that sentence, Anderson observes that workers in Germany have a strong appetite for a say in management. She then says: “such preferences [presumably, whether to prefer higher pay or more workplace democracy] may be endogenous to the bundle of rights constitutive of the employment relation in a given country.” So she seems ambivalent.

Allow me to suggest that Anderson needs to decide.

Anderson opens her contribution to this symposium with the brave statement that she is willing to sign on to the new research program that I call market democracy. She then aggressively criticizes institutional features of market democracy. But, as I hope to have demonstrated, none of her arguments has traction against my market democratic proposal. So Anderson has no reason to jump ship. No reason, that is, unless Anderson is willing to assert that justice requires the prohibition of wage-labor.

If that is Anderson’s considered view, it seems unattractive. After all, the question here is not whether Anderson (or you, or I) would prefer to work in a democratic workplace. Nor is the question whether Anderson (or you, or I) think the lowest paid class of workers should prefer to work in places structured that way. The question is what respect for citizens requires in this area.

In Free Market Fairness, I argue that justice requires that our social institutions show respect for citizens as responsible authors of their own lives. Choosing whether to join a democratic workplace (that may offer lower pay) or a non-democratic workplace (where pay may be higher) seems to me a choice that we should seek to empower individual citizens to make for themselves. Democratic workplace requirements would deny workers a choice that many workers might reasonably make: namely, to choose a job that pays a higher wage rather one that offers the experience of democratic control. And many citizens might reasonably make that choice, not out of greed or moral stupidity, but as an expression of their own values and in pursuit of a life plan that is precious to them.

I will be sad if Elizabeth Anderson decides to jump off the market democratic ship. But there is only one idea in sight that could give her reason to do so. This is the idea that justice requires that we deny citizens the freedom to decide for themselves what type of workplace structure best accords with their deep values and life plans.  I would be sadder still if Anderson thinks liberalism requires so severe a restriction on the economic liberty of workers.

I reply next to Dierdre McCloskey on “Factual Free Market Fairness.”

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Reply to Elizabeth Anderson: Part I, Commercial Liberty Mon, 18 Jun 2012 21:49:39 +0000 [Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium,...

The post Reply to Elizabeth Anderson: Part I, Commercial Liberty appeared first on Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

[Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium, click here.]

Elizabeth Anderson opens her post by laying out the distinctive normative commitments of market democracy. She then announces: “I’ll sign on.” On first reading that sentence, I thought: “Coool. Elizabeth Anderson has come aboard the ice-breaker FMF.” But then, starting with her second paragraph and through to the end of her post, Anderson vigorously and comprehensively assails the institutional forms of market democracy. And I thought to myself: “What’s this? Jumping ship so soon?”

After studying Anderson’s essay, however, I find myself hopeful again. For I believe that—at the level of fundamental moral principle, and at the institutional level too—Anderson has no good reason to abandon the FMF ship. In what follows, I invite Anderson to take a second look around the market democratic vessel and, perhaps, to stay aboard a little longer.

Let’s start with the points on which Anderson (agrees that she) agrees with Free Market Fairness. Justice should focus not just on outcomes but should be sensitive to the moral importance of people producing those outcomes for themselves. The economy is an important domain of agency. In a just regime, the rules of economic life should provide individuals with a rich set of opportunities to engage in economic activities according to their own preferences. This includes recognizing a right to private ownership of productive property. Thus, “At the level of ideal theory, high liberals made a serious error in discounting the importance of private enterprise and economic agency.”

So, unlike Samuel Freeman, Anderson has struck free from orthodox Rawlsianism and has stepped forward onto the deck of market democracy. This is brave and serious stuff from the esteemed holder of the John Rawls Collegiate Professorship of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. Market democracy welcomes you. But the question raised by your essay is: can we convince you to stay?

Anderson (thinks she) has significant objections to the market democratic research program that I set out in Free Market Fairness. While accepting my claim that basic economic liberty should be thickened beyond the orthodox Rawlsian set, Anderson argues that basic economic liberties should be heavily regulated. She argues for these regulations in two broad domains: I) commercial transactions, and II] the workplace (note: these are my labels, not Anderson’s, and the relation between these domains is complex and partially overlapping, but leave all that). In this post, I consider the first of these arguments.

Anderson’s argument:

I. THAT: commercial transactions within market democracy should be heavily regulated.

I.1) The exercise of some categories of basic liberty, unless that exercise is heavily regulated, objectionably impinges upon the liberties of other people and/or threaten them serious harms (for example, freedom of movement is basic but nonetheless we need extensive traffic rules).

I.2) The exercise of the economic liberties of commerce, unless heavily regulated, will impinge upon liberty and/or threaten them with serious harms.

I.3) Thus, commercial liberties of market democracy, while basic, should be heavily regulated.

There is an ambiguity about the meaning of “heavily regulated” that runs through the argument. In premise I.2), I shall interpret “heavily regulated” to mean more heavily regulated than on the classical liberal approach I recommend in Free Market Fairness. Only by being interpreted in that way could Anderson’s argument generate an objection to me. Now, holding her to that interpretation, I affirm I.1) but deny I.2): the exercise of economic liberty, regulated along the classical liberal lines I propose in FMF, does not objectionably impinge on the liberties of others and/or threaten them with serious harms.

Anderson offers a list of commercial horrors to illustrate the “countless ways of conducting business [that] reap gains for some while imposing unjust costs on others.” I agree that business activity sometimes imposes unjust costs on others. Notoriously, business owners sometimes cheat their customers, their competitors, and innocent bystanders too. But that is not the issue here. The issue is whether the business practices and outcomes that Anderson condemns are also condemned by my classical liberal scheme. And they are. The predatory practices that Anderson condemns, market democracy condemns with her.

On my classical liberal approach, for example, fraud is prohibited. So no marketing colored water as a cure for cancer. And if a high-powered corporate manager fails to satisfy the performance standards specified in his contract, then the board members better not vote to give him a fat bonus anyway just because he’s a friend (or, worse, because he’s paying them a kick-back). Similarly, if you sell me sausage labeled “organic turkey and tarragon,” then you better be darned certain that its not stuffed with something else. Further, economic contracts, to be valid, must satisfy (reasonable) standards of “unconscionability.” So no sneaking obscure loopholes onto the backs of insurance policies, or suckering people into signing loan-agreements with dirty tricks hidden in the fine print. And businesses certainly must not violate the property rights of other people. So no dumping your toxic waste in my backyard, or into the river from which I drink.

Not all of the cases on Anderson’s list have simple solutions under my classical liberal conception (no surprise, since no system of property regulation has ever offered simple solutions for all the problems of economic life). For example, what exactly should count as “insider trading?” And while classical liberals certainly object to government policies like those that encouraged the recent housing bubble and banking bust, the precise character of classical liberal regulations and institutions in the areas of monetary policy and private banking are likewise matters of ongoing debate.

The point remains. After setting out the list of practices to which Anderson objects, she writes: “without extensive regulation, markets happily accommodate such negative-value-added business plans.” Again, Anderson and I agree that businesses do sometimes engage in these objectionable practices. So my market democratic approach enthusiastically supports Anderson’s claim that the rules regulating economic liberty should forbid (and, I would add, should severely punish) parties that engage in such practices. Clichéd but true: classical liberalism is at bottom pro-market, not pro-business. The commercial regulations of market democracy seek to channel commercial activity so that the whole system tends to provide an ever-wider range of (quality) products to ordinary consumers at the lowest possible (non-predatory) price, while creating opportunities for (honest) persons to build (jobs creating) businesses.

So, regarding the regulation of commerce, Anderson’s post offers no reason for her to be unhappy aboard the market democratic ship. Your enemies are my enemies, and your friends are my friends too.

I do not mean to be too pat about the convergence of our views. On these questions of commercial regulation, there is remains considerable room for disagreement. For example, the doctrine of unconscionability that I mentioned can be interpreted in different ways. Personally, I believe that respect for citizens as responsible self-authors requires that we interpret that doctrine very narrowly. Thus I believe that citizens signing up for insurance policies, or taking out home-improvement loans, bear a heavy responsibility to ask questions about the contracts and to think carefully about whether they can fulfill their obligations even if their financial future turns out to be less rosy hoped. Anderson, I suspect, might agree with that idea in principle but still think respect for persons requires a slightly broader reading (I am just speculating here, of course). But differences of emphasis such as these are no cause for alarm. Market democracy is a (nascent) research program. One of its advantages, I think, is that it makes room for disagreements among shipmates equally committed to the foundations of the view.

Note: In presenting this first argument, Anderson also raises a question about the most sensible way to protect and regulate basic economic liberties.  Are basic economic liberties best protected as constitutional rights, as I suggest in FMF, or by some other institutional strategy, constitutional or otherwise? I share Anderson’s interest in this question of design. What’s essential to market democracy, recall, is that the (core) economic liberties be protected in a way appropriate to the priority they have as basic rights. So I am open to considering arguments in favor of alternative (e.g., non-constitutional right-entrenching) institutional strategies for protecting the basic economic liberties. The only requirement from market democracy is that such strategies must ensure that the basic economic liberties protection of the other sorts of liberal basic liberty. I’ll just say: this seems to me a daunting requirement.

But what about Anderson’s second worry about market democracy, the one about the regulation of the workplace? I find Anderson’s arguments here more challenging. In the end, though, I’m hopeful that she will find room on the market democratic vessel for her views on this topic too. In my next post, I explain the grounds for my hope.


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Reply to Samuel Freeman: Thick Economic Liberty Mon, 18 Jun 2012 13:19:25 +0000 [Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium,...

The post Reply to Samuel Freeman: Thick Economic Liberty appeared first on Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

[Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium, click here.]

I am grateful to Matt Zwolinski and Bleeding Heart Libertarians for hosting this symposium on Free Market Fairness. I am particularly indebted to the main commentators: Dierdre McCloskey, Elizabeth Anderson, Samuel Freeman, Richard Arneson, and Will Wilkinson. Thank you for the care and generosity with which you have treated my book. I have learned from each of you.

The five symposiasts have set out many hard questions for me. More important, they have identified crucial problems facing the project of combining private economic liberty with social justice. Over the next few days, I shall reply to each critic. I begin today by considering the illuminating and foundational challenge to my view set out by Samuel Freeman.

Freeman defends three theses: I) Thick economic liberties should not be recognized as basic liberties. II) The recognition of thick economic liberties as basic is incompatible with my own preferred classical liberal institutions. III) Thick economic liberty makes the difference principle unrealizable. (Jeepers, Sam, nothing else?). Let’s consider Freeman’s argument for each thesis in turn.

I.               Thick economic liberties are not basic liberties.

 Freeman’s argument:

I.1) Within the official Rawlsian scheme, only liberties that are necessary for the exercise of the moral powers of all citizens are candidates for being accorded the exceptional status of basic liberties in R’s sense. [Note: Sam suggests there may be further conditions as well, on which see below.]

I.2) Thick economic liberties, such as the right to privately own productive property, may be important to the life plans of some citizensbut they are not necessary for the exercise of the moral powers of all citizens.

I.3) Thick economic liberties are not basic liberties.

I affirm I.1) but deny I.2): There is a set of core economic liberties, a set thicker than the set detected by Rawls, that all citizens need if they are to exercise and develop their moral powers.

A word about I.1). For some people, like my character Amy, starting and running a private business (Amy’s Pup-in-the-Tub) is central to their life plan (66, 78). But not so for other citizens, such as Gary, who aspires to work on the line at General Motors or Carl, who longs to labor within a worker-owned coop. But, similarly, consider my character Terry, for whom politicking and campaigning for his preferred presidential candidate is central to his life plan (66). No doubt, there are many other citizens, such as Tom, who find presidential campaigns annoying and the idea of flying to a battle ground state to knock on strangers’ doors repellant.  But we would be wrong to conclude from this difference that political liberties are not necessary to the exercise of the moral powers of Terry and Tom too.  People may experience political liberty in ways that vary dramatically with their life plans, and yet political liberty may be essential to the exercise of the moral powers for them all. Something similar is true of economic liberty, despite the diverse life plans affirmed by Alice, Gary, and Carl. The challenge, of course, is to identify the economic liberties that are valuable to all citizens in that way.

Now, Rawls proposes a thin account of basic economic liberty: a right to own personal property, and a right to occupational choice. In FMF, I offer a substantive argument that the moral-powers considerations that justify the recognition of those two economic rights also justify the recognition of further economic rights: private ownership of productive property, and rights to determine many of the terms on which one is willing to work. Freeman does not challenge my substantive argument. Instead, Freeman simply asks me to explain why the additional economic liberties that I defend are valuable to all citizens, rather than just to exemplars such as Amy. To that request I now turn.

In FMF, I argue that the powers-protecting reasons that lead high liberals to recognize rights to ownership of personal (non-productive) property should also lead them to recognize rights to ownership of productive property (76-79). There are also weighty linkage arguments for recognizing rights to private productive property: the protection of basic civil and political rights is connected to the protection of property rights (84). However, I focus here on a different argument, one that I hope will make vivid how the right to private ownership is valuable to all citizens, whatever their life plan.

A right to private ownership of productive property provides individuals with the right to affirm and to seek to participate in any of a wide variety of ownership configurations, including joint and collective forms of ownership. Individuals with that right can select a life plan that includes their owning their own business, working in a business owned by others, joining with other workers in cooperative (democratically controlled) firms, and any of myriad intermediate forms. Without that right, citizens are vulnerable to having others use state power to impose some ownership configuration upon them. I claim that all citizens have a powers-protecting interest in determining for themselves the form of productive ownership relation to which they aspire. This is true of Amy, and equally of Alice and Carl.  A right to private property protects that common interest as a matter of formal (first principle) right.

This liberal right to private ownership of productive property does not make space for every imaginable configuration of property ownership. Unlike Rawls’s thin scheme, the scheme of basic ownership rights that I affirm in FMF rules out regime-types that require “social” ownership of productive property. (Under my market democratic conception of ownership, property is alienable, thus allowing individuals to enter into joint and collective ownership forms, but the right to property is not.) I think this is a virtue of my view. However, the market democratic affirmation of thick private ownership is not based on any assertion about the intrinsic moral worthlessless of all forms of socialism, such as the social ownership regime-type that Rawls calls “liberal (democratic) socialism.” Nor is my claim merely that recognizing a thicker right of private ownership formally empowers citizens to select from a wider range of property ownership forms (though it does). Instead, my suggestion is that a scheme of basic liberties that makes a wide range of ownership configurations formally available to citizens, as opposed to thin schemes that leave citizens vulnerable to having that range closed down, better expresses our commitment to respect citizens as responsible authors of their own lives.

Next, consider liberties of working. Rawls recognizes only a narrow right of occupational choice as basic. But in FMF, I argue that people have a powers-protecting interest in deciding not only which occupation they will pursue but also in deciding the terms and conditions on which they are willing to work. Freeman does not question my claim in FMF that this is an interest characteristic of all citizens, so I shall not rehearse the arguments I have made there for this wider right (of course, Freeman might yet dispute my claim that citizens have a powers-protecting interest in this aspect of economic liberty, though in his post he does not do so). For now, I invite readers to consider a more general issue raised by this dispute about the proper scope of the liberal liberty of working.

In determining what to include on a list of basic liberties, we employ some calibrated test for determining what range of liberties we think necessary for the exercise of the moral powers. But whatever powers-protecting test (PPT) we apply in one domain of activity presumptively applies in other domains of activity as well.  (As a fanciful analogue to Rawls’s thin approach to economic liberty, consider a thin defense of religious liberty: individuals have a right to chose which religion to affirm but denied the right to determine how many days a week they go to service or what things they could do once there.) The PPT that I apply in Free Market Fairness does not simply maximize liberty in each domain: I am guided instead by the two moral powers of self-authorship. But I do commit myself to some consistency in application of PPT across domains.In drawing up their list of basic liberties, I suggest, the Rawlsians should do the same. If Rawlsians think that only a narrow range of liberty is needed for powers-protection in the economic domains of people lives, then they owe us an explanation of why a narrow range of liberty is not sufficient in other domains. Alternatively, if they think a wide range of liberty protection is necessary for powers-protection in non-economic areas, then they need to explain why they recognize only narrow liberty in economic ones.

Two technical points. On Freeman’s (characteristically) precise formulation, showing that liberties are required for exercise of the moral powers of all citizens is a necessary but not sufficient condition for those liberties to be affirmed as basic. If Freeman would like to challenge thick economic liberty on the basis of any as-yet-unstated sufficiency conditions, or to challenge the substantive arguments I make for thick economic liberty in FMF, I am prepared to assess that challenge.

Finally, Freeman suggests that, if we did recognize my thicker set of economic liberties as basic, then property owning democracy—an institutional form I reject—would satisfy the requirements of liberal justice better than either of the market democratic forms I affirm. Now, if Freeman is prepared to state that Rawls made a moral error in recognizing only a thin conception of economic liberty, then I would be happy to address that (interesting) question.

II.             THAT: affirming thick economic liberties as basic liberties is incompatible with classical liberal institutions.

Freeman’s argument:

II.1). Within Rawls’s schema, basic liberties have lexical priority. More precisely, basic liberties in some domain can be restricted only for the sake of securing a fully adequate scheme of basic rights and liberties,

II.2) Thus economic liberties on my thickened basic set cannot be restricted for lexically posterior concerns such as the pursuit of social welfare or economic efficiency.

II.3) But the classical liberal institutions I affirm include features, such as a tax funded social safety net and school support, and efficiency-directed regulations such as laws against price collusion, that require the restriction of economic liberties on my thickened basic set.

II.4) Thus, thick economic liberty is incompatible with classical liberal institutions.

I affirm II.1) and II.2) but deny II.3). The core economic liberties that I say should be recognized as basic liberties, while uncompromising where they apply, have a limited scope. That scope is demarcated by a concern for responsible self-authorship, a concern for which simultaneously sets lower and upper boundary requirements regarding the domain of economic activities that merits this highest form of political priority. For example, I do not think it plausible to assert that, as a requirement of self-authorship, persons have an unrestricted right to their entire pre-tax income, or to leave estates to their children completely untaxed. But I do claim that a concern for self-authorship requires that workers be recognized as having a right to some very significant portion of their pretax income, and to make very substantial bequests. So too, while I think citizens have basic rights to earn a living and to engage in economic activity, I do not think a concern for self-authorship can plausibly be said to generate rights to completely unregulated activity across all economic domains (Price collusion, I believe, is incompatible with respecting one’s fellow citizens as responsible self-authors).

So thickening the set of basic economic rights, as I propose, leaves many economic issues that are not protected as a matter of basic liberty. The scope of the economic liberties that I affirm as basic is wide enough that it rules out Rawls’s preferred institutional forms—liberal socialism and property owning democracy. The affirmation of thick economic liberty restricts the regulatory and confiscatory power of the state with respect to many of the (allegedly) welfarist and efficiency schemes characteristic those regime types, at least as Rawls describes them (most notably on their slow- or no-growth variants). But the scope of my thickened set of basic economic liberties is narrow enough to permit the regulatory and confiscatory powers of government required by classical liberal institutions.

 As Freeman observes, in Free Market Fairness I seek to revive a classical liberalism in a (broadly) deontic tradition, rather than the consequentialist approach of classical liberal economist-philosophers of the last century (and, I might add, I aim do this without falling into a deontic libertarianism such as that of Nozick). Of course, my revival of classical liberalism comes with a twist since, along with thick economic liberty, FMF affirms a robust ideal of distributive justice too.

But Freeman is skeptical of my deontic approach to classical liberalism. He says it unrealistically assumes “that economically efficient market relations and outcomes will transpire from the exercise of economic liberties designed to promote something entirely different—individual self-authorship.” This is not a formal part of Freeman’s argument because it is at bottom an empirical issue. Still I find this objection fascinating, and highly revealing. Should we be surprised if identifying (the core set of) economic liberties by way of a value (responsible self-authorship) that effectively empowers diverse individuals to make use of local information in pursuit of projects known only to themselves would turn out in practice to promote efficiency (or, more important, to encourage innovation and economically productive creativity)? Lord Keynes, James Meade, and John Rawls (and Sam) might think so. But Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, and F.A. Hayek (and I) do not. But the fact of that great dispute does nothing to undermine this part my argument.


But then what of the difference principle? If Freeman had shown that the list of basic liberties should not be thickened as I propose, or if he had shown that the thickening I propose is incompatible with classical liberal institutions, then he would certainly have given us reason to doubt that market democracy satisfies the difference principle. But he has shown neither of those things. So, for now at least, my argument that market democratic regimes realize the difference principle stands unmolested (226-37).

However, so long as the main argument of FMF stands, the political conclusions of the orthodox Rawlsians do not stand unmolested. Far from it. For in FMF, I propose a market democratic interpretation of social justice. I offer this interpretation as a moral challenger to the host of social democratic interpretations that have for too long dominated the literature. Market democracy includes a rival interpretation of basic economic liberty, the subject of Freeman’s posting. But it also carries within it a rival interpretation of the requirements of distributive justice. Basic rights in place, market democracy insists, we best respect the self-authorship of our fellow citizens through institutions designed to maximize the bundle of material wealth personally controlled by the lowest paid wage earners over time, rather than through institutions designed to enhance their democratic control of the workplace (184-192). On both counts, I believe, market democracy offers a morally superior account of the requirements of democratic citizenship.

I shall reply next to Elizabeth Anderson.



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Free Market Fairness Thu, 02 Jun 2011 12:00:59 +0000 I’d like to introduce you to a ship of the BHL Line that I call “Free Market Fairness.” As an institutional matter, Free Market Fairness proudly shows the colors of...

The post Free Market Fairness appeared first on Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

I’d like to introduce you to a ship of the BHL Line that I call “Free Market Fairness.” As an institutional matter, Free Market Fairness proudly shows the colors of the classical liberal camp. As such, she affirms the powerful set of personal liberties long championed by liberals of every type: freedom of thought, expression, association and more. Against the left liberals, though, she also affirms a wide range of private economic liberties—powerful rights of ownership and of individual freedom of contract—as among the weightiest rights. Like traditional classical liberals, she sees the economic freedoms of capitalism as intimately connected to personal freedom, broadly understood.

But Free Market Fairness is an icebreaker through and through. She has no interest in sitting dock-tied outside the classical liberal camp, locked in the wind-worn conceptual ice, shouting out arguments across the straight about why high liberals should abandon their camp and come over to hers. Free Market Fairness is built to move. In terms of her fundamental justificatory commitments, she steams away from the camps of the traditional classical liberals and the traditional libertarians too.

So Free Market Fairness rejects that idea, often associated with libertarians such as Robert Nozick, that self-ownership is the grounding principle of social life. Similarly, Free Market Fairness rejects the idea that happiness, or efficiency, or economic growth (viewed as an end in itself) should be allowed to serve as the fundamental principle of social life. Instead, Free Market Fairness breaks her way over to the high liberal side. She affirms the same moral ideas of personhood and society affirmed by traditional denizens of that camp. She means to build her own camp there, directly on high liberal ideas.

Free Market Fairness takes a fundamentally deliberative (or, if you like, “democratic”) approach to the questions of social life. Society, in its moral essence, is not something private—like a web of commitments spontaneously spun by self-owning individuals. Citizens are not merely self-interested contractors. Nor are they utility maximizers. They are moral beings committed to living with others on terms that even the weakest among them can accept.

At base, society is a fair system of cooperation among citizens committed to respecting one another as responsible self-authors. Politics is essentially about creating a framework that respects the freedom and dignity of all citizens, regardless of their different innate abilities and family backgrounds. A social framework does this when it is designed to enable all citizens to exercise and develop their “moral powers.” Those powers involve the capacity people have to become responsible authors of their own lives, along with their capacity to recognize their fellow citizens as responsible self-authors too. Webs of private commitments grow as self-authoring invidivuals interact voluntarily within the framework of public morality. But it is that public framework that defines the moral character of Free Market Fairness.

Free Market Fairness affirms the idea, long associated with high liberals, that respect for citizens sometimes requires more than formal equality. A game of Monopoly in which players start with substantially unequal amounts of money would be unfair. The stain of that unfairness would not be lifted merely by the requirement that, once that game had begun, those differently endowed players must all abide by the same set of formal rules. High liberals have long claimed that inequalities in people’s talent endowments and family situations raise issues of public morality. Free Market Fairness agrees: undeserved inequalities can generate moral claims within politics. This does not require that society seek somehow to prevent those inequalities from arising or being expressed in the first place (as in the Kurt Vonnegut story “Harrison Bergeron”). Nor, I hasten to add, need this require that society somehow attempt to equalize the material holdings of all citizens. But this recognition does require a specific institutional response. In a just society, institutions and rules should be crafted so that whatever broad patterns of inequality emerge reflect our commitment to respecting all citizens as valued members of a cooperative whole.

If these ideas sound left liberal or high liberal, it is because they have long been affirmed exclusively by denizens of that side. Free Market Fairness has broken its way across the frozen straight. Arriving at the high liberal camp, it invites the traditional defenders of left liberal institutions to look afresh at the moral ideas beneath their own feet. Are the rickety (erstwhile “progressive”) structures we find there really suitable for that site? On these attractive moral foundations, couldn’t we build something stronger, more enduring and true?

Free Market Fairness invites high liberals to look down and rethink their moral premises. If citizens are truly committed to honoring one another as responsible self-authors, precisely which rights and liberties should be affirmed as basic possessions of all of them? In particular, do we really best respect our fellow citizens as free and equal self-governing agents by restricting their private economic liberties? Perhaps the surest foundation for private economic liberty is not to be found in traditional libertarian or classical liberal ideas of self-ownership or economic efficiency. Perhaps the more enduring foundation for such liberty is to be found in an idea directly beneath the old high liberal camp, in the idea of democratic legitimacy itself.

If we are concerned about fairness, what kind of framework best honors that (now common) concern? For example, is the best way to improve “the position of the least well-off class” to enact government programs designed to transfer wealth (whether within generations or between them)? Might we better express a concern for the least advantaged by creating a society focused not so much on issues concerning the transfer of wealth but on its creation?

Free Market Fairness is a version of bleeding heart libertarianism that seeks to answer those questions. I invite you to think about them too.

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Ships of The BHL Line Tue, 31 May 2011 17:17:56 +0000 In my most recent post I compared the moral status quo among political philosophers to a frozen sea. That frozen expanse separates, on one coast, libertarians and classical liberals and,...

The post Ships of The BHL Line appeared first on Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

In my most recent post I compared the moral status quo among political philosophers to a frozen sea. That frozen expanse separates, on one coast, libertarians and classical liberals and, on the other, (self-described) high liberals of various sorts. The classical liberals and libertarians affirm the importance of private economic liberty and are skeptical of social or distributive justice. The high liberals affirm social justice but minimize or deny the moral importance of private economic liberty.

As I mentioned, I think of bleeding heart libertarianism as an icebreaker entering this frozen state of affairs. But it would no doubt be more accurate to describe BHL as a fleet of icebreakers, exhibiting a variety of hull designs, different captains and crews, and (perhaps) very different navigational plans.

What makes a ship a member of the BHL Line? All BHL vessels are committed to challenging the moral status quo I described. In their various ways, BHL ships seek to open new conceptual lanes between two long frozen ideologies. BHLs do this by seeking to combine two erstwhile un-combinables: a commitment to private economic liberty and a commitment to social justice.

I wish to emphasize the diversity of the BHL Line. Part of what’s so interesting about the bleeding heart libertarian movement is that there are so many different ways to approach the problem of combining these un-combinables. I applaud this. To paraphrase Mao: “Let a thousand icebreakers boom.”

So in proposing a research program for bleeding heart libertarians, I very much mean to be proposing but one such program. I hope that some people (most notably from the classical liberal camp) will find my BHL icebreaker—in design and strategy—attractive enough to decide to jump aboard and lend a hand. But if you do not like the particular icebreaker that I am about to describe, I hope that you will keep an open to mind when you consider others (or, perhaps better, that you will seek to design a new one all your own).

Having sounded a note of open-mindedness, I fear that some readers and contributors to this blog may find what I say next a bit harsh. For there is one pattern of vessel design that I believe does not merit inclusion in the BHL Line. I adverted to this defective design in my opening post. I am thinking of a class of vessels built from the following thought: “BHLs and traditional liberals share the same moral commitments and differ merely about an empirical question: which set of institutions, (roughly) free market ones or (roughly) big government ones, best honor or help secure those shared moral commitments?”

Vessels built from this thought worry me. They seem content merely to skim atop the moral deadlock, rather than driving into and disrupting it so that its conceptual blocks might be broken free and then somehow rearranged. To me, such vessels seem more like flitting ice-sailboats than icebreakers of the BHL Line. Worse, such vessels seem to me exhibit engineering flaws that directly flow from the idea that motivates them: the idea that BHL’s share the same basic moral commitment of the left liberals. I doubt that any vessel built from this idea could float, or even skim.

What would it mean for BHLs to share the same moral commitments of the left liberals? Two things. First, it would mean that BHLs join the high liberals in affirming the same list of basic rights and liberties that are held by all citizens. Second, it would require that BHLs accept the high liberal account of what it means to show proper concern for the poor. Both requirements are problematic.

Consider the first. Libertarians (and classical liberals) have long insisted that wide-ranging private economic liberties are among the most sacred and inviolable rights of free citizens. Are the ice-surfers really willing to abandon this idea? High liberals such as John Rawls recognize only a spare and attenuated list of economic liberties as basic. For the Rawlsians, the question of whether the list of constitutionally protected rights should be “thickened up” so as to include, for example, the right to own private productive property is one that must be decided in light of historial, cultural and economic conditions. Maybe liberalism will call for a socialist economy, maybe it will allow some kind of private market. Should BHLs join the high liberals in that approach to basic rights and liberties? If they do, in what sense do they remain libertarians or classical liberals at all?

The second requirement is equally problematic. Let’s accept that BHLs can join high liberals in being concerned for the poor. Let’s even accept that the BHLs can join them in expressing that concern in terms of a commitment to social justice (there are lots of clues in Hayek about how this might be done). Heck, let’s even accept that BHLs can affirm the same formal conception of social justice as the high liberals. That formal conception goes something like this: when considering a variety of institutional forms, social justice requires that we prefer the one that, while fully respecting the basic rights and liberties common to all citizens, brings about the greatest benefits to the poor.

To traditional libertarians, this may already seem like a lot to concede. But the ice-skimmers would require BHLs to go one big step further still. They would require BHLs to allow the high liberals to decide what goods or states of affairs properly count as “benefiting” to the poor. High liberals tend to think that social equality benefits the poor, even if the price of that equality is that the poor have a smaller bundle of materials goods than they might have had in a society that allowed more inequality. In part this is because they think the personal experience of political participation is more valuable to people than the personal experience of wealth and income. There are complex issues here. Allow me simply to state that there is no a priori reason to think that BHLs should be ready to agree with the left liberals about which set of “benefits” are most valuable to the poor.

So, I have emphasized the diversity of the ships of the BHL. There are many different types of icebreaker that might plausibly be launched against this frozen sea in search of new ways of combining the un-combinables: private economic liberty and social justice. I have also expressed my skepticism about the seaworthiness of one design: the form of BHL that claims to affirm the same moral ends as the high liberals and to disagree with them only about empirical means.

Now, allow me to invite you to walk with me out to the end of a long pier jutting out from the classical liberal camp (zip up, its going to get windy). Moored at the end is the first of a new line of BHL icebreakers. I call her Free Market Fairness. Let’s go aboard. I’m eager to show you around.

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The Moral Status Quo Fri, 27 May 2011 12:17:09 +0000 Bleeding heart libertarianism (BHL) suggests a new research agenda. As I mentioned in my previous posting, I see that BHL agenda as having two main parts. One invites bleeding heart...

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Bleeding heart libertarianism (BHL) suggests a new research agenda. As I mentioned in my previous posting, I see that BHL agenda as having two main parts. One invites bleeding heart libertarians to develop a rival normative vision of what free societies owe the poor; the other invites libertarians to defend economic liberty in new ways. I shall address both those points but first some stage setting.

BHL, as I understand it, represents a fundamental challenge to the moral status quo. That moral status quo is the frozen conceptual sea I mentioned in my previous post. I describe the conceptual sea as frozen because defenders of various ideological positions have long found themselves locked into familiar and more or less immovable positions. Here’s a quick topographical map of this frozen terrain.

Off one coast, we have the two camps of the defenders of private economic liberty: the libertarians and the classical liberals. By classical liberals I have in mind a run of free market thinkers including Adam Smith, F.A. Hayek and Richard Epstein. The distinctive political commitment of classical liberalism is to private economic liberty—though classical liberals allow taxation to support a limited range of government provided social goods (education vouchers, a safety net). Some thinkers in this tradition argue from natural rights, but most employ consequentialist or ends-directed forms of reasoning. The philosophical base of this position is a conception of the person as a seeker of happiness or utility.

Hunkered down on the ice next to the classical liberals are the libertarians. Nozick is the paradigm here, though anarcho-capitalist such as Murray Rothbard roll out their blankets on the edges of this same camp. The distinctive political commitment of libertarians is also to private economic liberty—though libertarians tend to treat economic liberties as even more weighty than the classical liberals do (“taxation is theft”). Libertarians can be consequentialists, but they more often employ what we might call naturalistic forms of justification. They find their philosophical base in the idea of the person as a self-owner.

On the opposite coast, we have the modern or high liberals. This is the comfortable, academically dominant camp. John Rawls is the paradigmatic figure her, though if you throw a snowball down the hallway of most any major philosophy department these days you could close your eyes confident that you will hit a high liberal. The distinctive political commitment of high liberals is not to private economic liberty but to social justice: social institutions should be arranged so as to benefit all members of society, including the poor. High liberals minimize or deny the importance of private economic liberty. After all, such liberties limit the power of government to “spread the wealth around,” a strategy that high liberals see as plainly required by their commitment to social justice. Rather than a consequentialist or naturalist form of reasoning, high liberals characteristically employ deliberative forms of justification. A set of institutions is just and legitimate only if it is acceptable in principle to the citizens who are to live there. The philosophical base of high liberalism is not a utility seeker or a self-owner but an idea of the person as a democratic citizen. This is a person committed to living with his fellow citizens on terms that all can endorse, regardless of the particular social or economic position each inhabits.

Even this quick sketch can help us understand why the sea between these two coasts thickened and froze. Graduate students attracted to the idea of private economic liberties (wide and powerful rights of private ownership and contract, for example) soon find themselves on dogsleds heading over toward the camps of Hayek and Nozick. As they approach that coast they get to choose whether then are more comfortable with Hayekian ends-directed reasoning or the Nozickian naturalist form. But whichever camp they choose, “social justice” is a phrase they are told they must not speak.

Other students, attracted to the ideal of deliberative justification, find themselves whisked off in the other direction by high-powered snowmobile. Up, up to the high liberal camp. There they can join the Rawlsians and luck egalitarians such as Ronald Dworkin and the democratic theorists such as Amy Gutmann in warm discussions about the precise nature and requirements of social justice. But in this camp, “private economic liberty” is a phrase only rarely and dismissively heard.

For decades, the residents of these camps have stared at each other across an icy, windswept divide. Occasionally, the defenders of private economic liberty call out to their opponents to abandon the ideal of social justice and come over to join them in affirming one another as self-owners (or utility maximizers). But the advocates of social justice are just as firmly committed to the moral ideal of persons as democratic citizens, committed to living among institutions that all might endorse. Each group is anchored to a very different view about the nature of moral personhood, and each knows that the anchors on the other coast are as firmly set too. So for the most part they just go about their business, and let the wind between howl, lonely and wild.

But bleeding heart libertarians now come onto the scene. As I think of it, the BHLs are riding an icebreaker, the full power of which they have only begun themselves to understand. But what in what direction does this icebreaker run? And precisely what message do those riding in it carry? I have some ideas. More on that soon.

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A Research Agenda for Bleeding Heart Libertarians Thu, 26 May 2011 12:52:35 +0000 What does it mean to be a bleeding heart libertarian? Here is one answer: “To be a bleeding heart libertarian means to have a concern for the poor that, in...

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What does it mean to be a bleeding heart libertarian? Here is one answer: “To be a bleeding heart libertarian means to have a concern for the poor that, in content and intensity, equals that of traditional bleeding heart liberals.” Looked at this way, familiar normative disputes get reduced to (somewhat less familiar) empirical ones. Given a shared concern for the poor, which slate of institutions and policies best serves this common concern: the direct (big state) ones of the bleeding heart liberals or the indirect (small state) ones of the libertarians?

I think this answer is at once better and worse than it first seems. It is better because, like an ice cutter, it breaks up long-frozen conceptual seas. In doing so, it opens navigational paths for the development of genuinely new forms of libertarianism. Like bleeding heart liberals of the left, bleeding heart libertarians are indeed foundationally concerned for the poor. So far so good.

However this answer is also worse than it seems. The problem is that, in its eagerness to break the ice, this answer obscures a normative dispute that bleeding heart libertarians would do well to make central. Yes, to be a bleeding heart libertarian means to have a concern for the poor that is equal in intensity to that of the bleeding heart liberals. But the content of that bleeding heart libertarian concern is crucially different from that of bleeding heart liberals.

To be a bleeding heart libertarian means to be willing to take up a new research agenda. That agenda, it seems to me, has two parts. The first involves our developing a distinct and rival normative vision of what free societies owe the poor. The second invites us to consider new ways of defending core ideas of traditional libertarianism: most notably, the importance of private economic liberty. More soon on each of these points.

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