Economics, Ethics and Public Policy
Chapter 10: Conclusion: commodification
Some things are commodities. Some things are not. The social consensus generally accepts that pineapples, motorcars, English textiles and Portuguese wines are economic tradeables that may legitimately cross the frontiers of property and price. The social consensus generally denies that a vote, a verdict, an exemption from military service or a licence to practise polygamy may reasonably be rationed to the highest bidder at an auction sale. People can rent themselves out to a hectoring boss. People cannot sell themselves into slavery by consent. The distinction, as every working stiff will know, is not clear-cut. Borders are conventional ruts. They seem arbitrary at times but they are what they are. On the one hand there is the marketable: ëEconomics really does constitute the universal grammar of social scienceí (Hirshleifer, 1985: 53). On the other hand there is the super-marketable: ëBlocked exchanges set limits on the dominance of wealthí (Walzer, 1983: 100). ëCommodificationí is the term that describes the new boundary-lines that are being marked out by encroaching capitalism. Commodification is an evocation of what happens when uncompromising liberalism contests unaccustomed and unconventional areas of social space. Prisoners purchase upgrades to more luxurious cells. Foreigners buy a ëgreen cardí or a passport. Speculators auction permits that license noxious pollutants. Universities merchant admissions and hawk honorary doctorates.
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