Needs, Rights, and the Market

Needs, Rights, and the Market

Needs, Rights, and the Market

Needs, Rights, and the Market

Excerpt

This is a book about the market, about what the market does for us, and about the limits we ought to place on it. The book addresses long-standing and much debated questions of political economy: How do markets work and what is their social purpose? What sorts of wants are appropriate for us to satisfy through the use of markets? What limits can we legitimately place on property right and the exchange of property? What is the relation between inequality of income and wealth and inequality of persons? How do we reconcile the demands of liberty with those of welfare?

In part, these are questions about the economy and because of this we should expect an important contribution from economics in our search for answers. I was educated to become an economist and little in this book fails to remind me of the strengths and weaknesses of that education. In many ways the contribution of economics (especially the great tradition of the classical economists) to this book has been substantial. Yet, as valuable as that contribution has been, it is also, I think, deeply flawed.

When economists deal with the way the market works, they begin by making assumptions about what motivates people to work together in producing and distributing the things they need. Economics does not as a rule delve deeply into human motivation. Economists concern themselves much more with the implications of assumptions about motives than with the motives themselves. Bearing in mind the limited objectives of economics, I have no argument to make against this approach. We cannot accomplish everything at once. If separating out a part of the problem somewhat in isolation assures that we will make some mistakes it . . .

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