The market: a product, not a way out, of politics

In the end, Brennan’s argument for markets over politics is a moral one. Supporting regulation, he tells us, means supporting violence, because violence is what the state ultimately deals in, whether it is enforcing fair employment laws or sending people to war. It’s bracing to be reminded of this, but Brennan is wrong in drawing such a stark contrast between the coercion of politics and the informed consent of market transactions. The fact is that markets bring their own share of state violence. Supporting private property means endorsing violence against determined trespassers. Supporting market-based health care means endorsing violence against people who try to get the care they need without money—or, more plausibly, letting them suffer and die. Supporting the repayment of public debts over political calls to repudiate them, as the European Union has done in Greece, means endorsing violence against those who try to get food for their children in a country where reports of widespread malnutrition are growing. These are not intended to be sentimental arguments: They are precisely as rigorous as Brennan’s point that political regulation implies violence. There may be good reasons to support the market in some, even all, of these circumstances, but the market will always be a product of political and legal decisions, with legislatures and courts behind it and a policeman at its side. The market is not a way out of politics, but one of the products of politics.

–Jedediah Purdy, “Votes of No Confidence”


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