The Moral Limits of the Market

Which goods are legitimately up for sale on the market, and which should be held ‘off the market’? Are there any moral limits to what ‘money could buy’? In my dissertation project (Utrecht University, 2003-2008), I addressed these questions. The main focus of the project was to work out a view I call ‘institutional pluralism’. We often have moral reasons to be suspicious about the effects of marketization, but this doesn’t necessarily translate in prohibitions on marketization as the best strategy. Rather, we can accommodate these moral concerns by letting non-market modes of provision flourish parallel to the market. For example, market-based care services can co-exist with care delivered as a ‘free good’ in the informal sphere. The moral concerns then shift to questions about the equilibrium between market and non-market modes of providing the same good or service.  

The general position of institutional pluralism is set out and defended in [9]. It was applied to three particular market contexts: 

  • Markets for media content [12, in Dutch 2]: the commercialization of the media, and how this affects our public sphere and democracy. 
  • Markets for security services [413, in Dutch 6]: the rise of private security companies and how this relates democratic ideals of security for all. 
  • Markets for care-giving services [14, in Dutch 8 & 17]: the way in which care-giving for children, the elderly and vulnerable is changed when provided by professional, commercial organizations.  

 The doctoral dissertation as a whole can be found at [5]. 

In later years, I wrote on markets in the context of the public sector (markets for public services, such as health care and education).  

  • I wrote an overview of the philosophical debate about the marketization for public services, for a special issue [15].  
  • My own position is presented in [18], where I defend the view that it is hard to see markets as ‘mere means’. A Dutch spin-off of this is [11].  
  • I wrote an article on the normative theory of privatization [20].

Finally, I wrote book reviews of books by Adrian Walsh & Richard Giulianotti, on markets in sports [7], Debra Satz [10] and Michael Sandel’s [16] books on the limits of the market, two other books on commodification [1], and Chiara Cordelli’s book The Privatized State [19]. A Dutch discussion of the eroding effects of markets is [3].  

Publications for ‘The Moral Limits of the Market’: 

[1] ‘De plaats van de markt: nieuwe controverses’. In Socialisme & Democratie 62 (12)(2005): 48-55. PDF.
Book review essay of Martha Ertman & Joan Williams (eds.), Rethinking Commodification (New York University Press, 2005); Eelke de Jong (ed.), Markt en waarden (Valkhof Pers, 2004); Colin Williams, A Commodified World? (Zed Books, 2005). 

[2] ‘De media: marktplaats of plaats voor ontmoeting?’, in: Socialisme & Democratie 63 (5)(2006): 15-23. PDF.  

[3] ‘Marktwerking kan morele praktijken eroderen’, in: Lessen in marktwerking. Christen-Democratische Verkenningen, Herfst 2007, 69-78. WEB/PDF.  

[4] ‘The Useful Myth of State Security. Reflections on the State’s Special Role in Security Provision’, in: Stephanie Roels en Madelon de Keizer (eds.). Staat van veiligheid. De Nederlandse samenleving sinds 1900 (Zutphen: Walburg Pers & Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie, 2007), 169-183. PDF.
Reprinted in: Res Publica 18 (1)(2009): 1-7 (journal published by the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics of The University of Melbourne).    

[5] The Market’s Place in the Provision of Goods. Utrecht: Zeno Institute for Philosophy, 2008. Doctoral dissertation. 296 pp. Available at. PDF

[6] ‘Veiligheidszorg tussen staat en markt’, in Tijdschrift voor Veiligheid 7(4) (2008): 50-58. WEB/PDF.  

[7] ‘Review of Adrian Walsh and Richard Giulianotti. Ethics, Money and Sport. This Sporting Mammon’, in: Journal of Applied Philosophy, 25(1)(2008): 75-77.  DOI/PDF

[8] Markt en zorg. Filosofische grensverkenningen (Utrecht: NIZW, 2008). 36 pp. 

[9] ‘Institutional Pluralism and the Limits of the Market’, in: Politics, Philosophy & Economics 8 (4) (2009): 420-447. DOI/PDF.

[10] Book review essay of Debra Satz, Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale. The Moral Limits of Markets (Oxford University Press, 2010), in: Business Ethics Quarterly 22 (3)(2012): 589-601. DOI/PDF

[11] ‘De markt als paard van Troje’, Socialisme & Democratie 67 (1/2)(2010): 35-45. PDF.

[12] ‘Communication as Commodity. Should the Media Be on the Market?’, in: Journal of Applied Philosophy 28 (1)(2011): 65-79. DOI/PDF.   

[13] ‘The Marketization of Security Services’ in: Public Reason 3(2)(2011): 124-145. PDF

[14] ‘The Commodification of Care’, in: Hypatia 26 (1)(2011): 43-64. DOI/PDF. 

[15] ‘Public Services on the Market: Issues and Arguments’, in: Public Reason 3(2)(2011): 3-12. DOI/PDF.  

[16] ‘Markten zijn overal’, in: Beleid & Maatschappij, 39(4)(2012): 449-454. Review van Michael Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy (Allen Lane, 2012). WEB/PDF.

[17] ‘Eenzaam? Koop gezelschap!’, in: De Groene Amsterdammer 139 (7), 12 februari 2015, pp. 26-31. WEB.  

[18] ‘Markets as Mere Means’, in: British Journal of Political Science 47(2)(2017): 263-281. DOI/PDF.  

[19] ‘Can we Escape Privatization Dilemmas? Reflections on Cordelli’s The Privatized State’, in: Jurisprudence. An International Journal of Legal and Political Thought 13(3)(2022), 421-426. DOI

[20]‘Elements for a Normative Theory of Privatization’, in: Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 16(2)(2023). DOI/PDF