Liberalism, Commodification, and Justice
A number of political philosophers have argued recently against what they see as an ever-increasing trend toward commodification, or what Michael Sandel has described as the transition of a market economy into a market society. Their critique of commodification is accompanied by a condemnation of liberal political philosophy which, it is said, cannot justify curtailing a market transaction on the basis ofwhat is sold, but only on the basis of how it is sold. The commodification theorist is correct that if this were all the liberal had to say in the face of noxious markets, it would be inadequate: there are some goods that simply should not go to the highest bidder. Yet we have ample reason to be put off by the perfectionist strategies commodification theorists have themselves offered for restricting noxious markets in a liberal democracy. My aim in this paper is thus twofold. First, to expose the flaws in the leading strands of commodification theory, and second, to argue that the political liberal does have the wherewithal to explain why, even in a market society, certain things should not be for sale. She can appeal, I will show, first, to a principle of equal basic rights, and second, to one sufficiency in basic needs and the social basis of self-respect, to explain the noxiousness of markets in everything from votes, to health care, to body parts.