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How far should society go in permitting people to buy and sell goods and services? Should they be able to treat such things as babies, body parts, sex and companionship as commodities that can be traded in a free market? Should politics be thought of as just economics by another name? Margaret Jane Radin addresses these controversial issues in a detailed exploration of contested commodification.
Economists, lawyers, policy analysts and social theorists have been sharply divided between those who believe that commodifying some goods naturally tends to devalue them and those who believe that almost everything is properly grist for the market mill. In recent years, the free market position has been gaining strength.
In this book, Radin provides a nuanced response to its sweeping generalization.;Not only are there willing buyers for body parts or babies, Radin observes, but some desperately poor people would be willing sellers, while better-off people find such trades abhorrent. Radin observes that many such areas of contested commodifications reflect a persistent dilemma in liberal society: we value freedom of choice and simultaneously believe that choices ought to be restricted to protect the integrity of what it means to be a person. She views this tension as primarily the result of underlying social and economic inequality, which need not reflect an irreconcilable conflict in the premises of liberal democracy.
As a philosophical pragmatist, the author therefore argues for a conception of incomplete commodification, in which some contested things can be bought and sold, but only under carefully regulated circumstances. Such a regulatory regime both symbolizes the importance of nonmarket value to personhood and aspires to ameliorate the underlying conditions of inequality.