It is easy to notice that markets encroach on more and more social interactions. Things and services that one can legally buy and sell today on the market include:

  • a healthy kidney (Iran);
  • surrogate motherhood, i.e., carrying out a pregnancy in another woman’s body (India);
  • the right to emit a certain amount of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere (European Union).

Economists argue that since the buyer and the seller interact voluntarily, they must both be better off as a result of the exchange. However, not only our gut reactions suggests that something might be wrong with these kinds of markets. Many sociologists and philosophers argue that such exchanges corrupt us in some way, and create hidden costs by eroding non-market values.

The main goal of this course is to present the debates surrounding the moral (normative) evaluation of markets. We will also discuss ways in which markets shape our conception of morality. In the first segment of the course we will investigate classical perspectives on the market as either a beneficial or destructive force. Next, we will focus on the moral obligations of economic institutions towards society. Is there such a thing as a corporate social responsibility? In the third part, we will try to understand the effects of market mechanisms within specific institutions. For example, is effort in the workplace primarily motivated by financial incentives? Finally, we will analyze how the moral limits of markets are constructed. What are acceptable items for market exchange? Should a child, an organ, or the right to pollute be allowed for trade? We will also try to understand historical and geographical variation in the moral limits of markets.

Olivia Nicol and Zsombor Meder