Free Market Fairness

Free Market Fairness

Free Market Fairness

Free Market Fairness


Can libertarians care about social justice? In Free Market Fairness, John Tomasi argues that they can and should. Drawing simultaneously on moral insights from defenders of economic liberty such as F. A. Hayek and advocates of social justice such as John Rawls, Tomasi presents a new theory of liberal justice. This theory, free market fairness, is committed to both limited government and the material betterment of the poor. Unlike traditional libertarians, Tomasi argues that property rights are best defended not in terms of self-ownership or economic efficiency but as requirements of democratic legitimacy. At the same time, he encourages egalitarians concerned about social justice to listen more sympathetically to the claims ordinary citizens make about the importance of private economic liberty in their daily lives. In place of the familiar social democratic interpretations of social justice, Tomasi offers a "market democratic" conception of social justice: free market fairness. Tomasi argues that free market fairness, with its twin commitment to economic liberty and a fair distribution of goods and opportunities, is a morally superior account of liberal justice. Free market fairness is also a distinctively American ideal. It extends the notion, prominent in America's founding period, that protection of property and promotion of real opportunity are indivisible goals. Indeed, according to Tomasi, free market fairness is social justice, American style.

Provocative and vigorously argued, Free Market Fairness offers a bold new way of thinking about politics, economics, and justice--one that will challenge readers on both the left and right.


Some of my best friends are libertarians. But by this I do not mean the usual thing: that these people are my friends even though they are libertarians. And while I do not quite mean the opposite, that would bring us somewhat closer to the truth. The mere fact that someone is a libertarian is enough to dispose me to befriend them. This is because I find libertarianism a profoundly attractive political view.

I use the term libertarianism here in the popular, colloquial sense, meaning that cluster of political views associated with the “rightwing” of liberal democratic polities. In various ways, and for various reasons, theorists in this broad tradition support the idea of limited government and wide private freedom, most notably in economic affairs. Classical liberals, economic liberals, anarcho-capitalists, right-libertarians, or (as some insist) real liberals—for now, I use the term libertarian to refer to them all.

For me, the main attraction of this broad libertarian tradition is its emphasis on property rights. All liberals value the civil and political rights of individuals: the right to a fair trial, freedom of expression, political participation, personal autonomy, and so on. But libertarians are distinct in asserting that the economic rights of capitalism— the right to start a business, personally negotiate the terms of one’s employment, or decide how to spend (or save) the income one earns—are essential parts of freedom too.

I like this aspect of libertarianism. At its best I see the libertarian defense of property rights as springing from an attractive ideal of political agency. Possessing some particular bundle of material goods, for libertarians, is not nearly so important as possessing those goods because of one’s own actions and choices. When we are free, we are aware of ourselves as central causes of the lives we lead. It is not just captains of industry or heroes of Ayn Rand novels who define themselves through their accomplishments in the economic realm. Many ordinary people—middle-class parents, single moms, entrylevel workers—become who they are, and express who they hope to be, by the personal choices they make regarding work, saving, and spending. These are areas in which people earn esteem from others and feel a proper pride for things they themselves do. In economic . . .

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