Anderson’s spheres Notes for October 1

Main points

We discussed Anderson’s case for four propositions:

  1. There are different ways of valuing things.
  2. Some of our values are best realized through the social institution of the market and others are not.
  3. Permitting some things to be distributed through market mechanisms can make it impossible to value them in other ways.
  4. The phenomenon noted in point 3 can reduce the freedom and autonomy of people in a society, such that the social policy most friendly to freedom might be one that limits market exchanges.

We spent a lot of time on one example: legalization of prostitution.

The handout has the background of Anderson’s theory of value. That might help in interpreting the part we read. It also has a short bibliography of stuff on similar themes.

I’ll post some links to discussions of organ sales later.

Vocabulary lesson

Alrighty, so I went to the Urban Dictionary to look up that term. Just for the record, I had meaning two in mind: “A dish of raw leafy green vegetables, often tossed with pieces of other raw or cooked vegetables, fruit, cheese, or other ingredients and served with a dressing.” Unlike the sad, degraded members of the current generation who are kept from decent, intimate relations by their coarse social circumstances, I had never heard of … the other one.

Just goes to show that there’s always something new to learn.

And, while it doesn’t prove that knowledge is not desirable for its own sake, it comes close.

More later, I have to run right now. Great discussion. Thanks for your seriousness and good humor.

Anderson vs. Posner** The last two sections were added on October 2.

On p. 155, Anderson claims that “Economic analyses of the law, which represent all goods as economic goods, defend the moral and legal equivalence of the two crimes” of robbery and rape. She cites Richard Posner’s “An Economic Theory of Criminal Law” as proposing this equivalence. (The citation to the Posner piece is on the handout).

That is not literally what Posner said on the page Anderson refers to (I’ll get to what he did say in a moment). Furthermore, his article proposes an explanation of the criminal law rather than an evaluation of it. His thesis is that, “The major function of criminal law in a capitalist society is to prevent people from bypassing the system of voluntary, compensated exchange—the “market,” explicit or implicit—in situations where, because transaction costs are low, the market is a more efficient method of allocating resources than forced exchange” (p. 1195).

Rape poses a problem for this kind of theory. It is plausible to assume that using coercion is part of the point for at least some rapists. But if that is so, then there is no voluntary, compensated exchange open to the rapist and, consequently, his raping does not bypass a market. And if that is so, then Posner’s theory does not explain the prohibition on rape.

One of the arguments that Posner gives in reply is that there are markets that the rapist bypasses. He could do things for others that they value enough to allow him to exercise dominance or whatever in return. By choosing rape, he takes what he wants without doing anything in exchange. So, says Posner, the economic analysis does not fail to explain the criminal sanctions against rape. Then we get the analogy: “the prohibition against rape is to the marriage and sex “market” as the prohibition against theft is to explicit markets in goods and services.” It’s an analogy meant to restate the thesis about how the criminal law tries to prevent people from bypassing markets. It’s not a statement of moral or legal equivalence. It’s still worse to rape someone than it is to pick their pockets and the punishments are harsher.

I don’t deny that this sounds weird. But it’s not depraved.

Organ sales

William Saletan describes the existing global market for organs in a link-filled article in Slate. A Los Angeles Times article on November 5, 2006 examined the current system for allocating organs for transplant.

The Economist editorialized in favor of kidney sales on November 16, 2006. The LA Times reported on a proposal to allow convicts to trade their organs for reduced sentences on March 9, 2007. The Economist’s “Free Exchange” blogger weighed in not once but twice last year.

And not to be outdone, University of Chicago warhorses Gary Becker and Richard Posner used their own blog to opine on this topic.

This page was written by Eleanor Brown and Michael Green for Freedom, Markets, and Well-Being, PPE 160, Fall 2007.
Freedom, Markets, and Well-Being