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Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 27 No. 4 (Fall 2013)

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Market Reasoning as Moral Reasoning: Why Economists Should Re-engage with Political Philosophy

Article Citation

Sandel, Michael J. 2013. "Market Reasoning as Moral Reasoning: Why Economists Should Re-engage with Political Philosophy." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 27(4): 121-40.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.27.4.121

Abstract

In my book What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (2012), I try to show that market values and market reasoning increasingly reach into spheres of life previously governed by nonmarket norms. I argue that this tendency is troubling; putting a price on every human activity erodes certain moral and civic goods worth caring about. We therefore need a public debate about where markets serve the public good and where they don't belong. In this article, I would like to develop a related theme: When it comes to deciding whether this or that good should be allocated by the market or by nonmarket principles, economics is a poor guide. Deciding which social practices should be governed by market mechanisms requires a form of economic reasoning that is bound up with moral reasoning. But mainstream economic thinking currently asserts its independence from the contested terrain of moral and political philosophy. If economics is to help us decide where markets serve the public good and where they don't belong, it should relinquish the claim to be a value-neutral science and reconnect with its origins in moral and political philosophy.

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Authors

Sandel, Michael J. (Harvard U)

JEL Classifications

A13: Relation of Economics to Social Values
B41: Economic Methodology

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