Markets and Morals: Lesson 1

Hired Help/Markets and Morals

“The case for free markets typically rests on two claims – one about freedom, the other about welfare. The first is the libertarian case for markets. It says that letting people engage in voluntary exchanges respects their freedom; laws that interfere with the free market violate individual liberty. The second is the utilitarian argument for markets. It says that free markets promote the general welfare; when two people make a deal, both gain. As long as their deal makes them better off without hurting anyone else, it must increase overall utility” (75).

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“Market skeptics question these claims. They argue that market choices are not always as free as they may seem. And they argue that certain goods and social practices are corrupted or degraded if bought and sold for money” (75).

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“In this chapter, we’ll consider the morality of paying people to perform two very different kinds of work – fighting wars and bearing children. Thinking through the rights and wrongs of markets in these contested cases will help us clarify the differences among leading theories of justice” (75).

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What’s Just – Drafting Soldiers or Hiring Them?

In the U.S. Civil War, the Union was suffering many casualties, so Lincoln signed the first draft law.

“Conscription ran against the grain of the American individualist tradition, and the Union draft made a striking concession to that tradition: Anyone who was drafted and didn’t want to serve could hire someone else to take his place” (76).

After complaints, congress allowed poor people to pay $300 instead of serving in order to give the poor the chance to not fight.

“Though intended to offer exemption from service at a bargain rate, the commutation fee was politically more unpopular than substitution – perhaps because it seemed to put a price on human life and give that price government sanction” (76).

Later, Congress stopped the commutation fee, but the right to hire a substitute was retained.

Most people today and then viewed this as class discrimination.

“If the Civil War system was unfair because it let the affluent hire other people to fight their wars, doesn’t the same objection apply to the volunteer army?

The method of hiring differs, of course”(77).

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“It remains the case that those of us who’d rather not enlist hire other people to fight our wars and risk their lives. So what’s the difference, morally speaking? If the Civil War system of hiring substitutes was unjust, isn’t the volunteer army unjust as well?

To examine this question, let’s set aside the Civil War system and consider the two standard ways of recruiting soldiers – conscription and the market” (78).

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Translate this: Conscription ____ the ranks of the military by requiring all eligible citizens to serve, or, if not all are needed, by holding a lottery to determine who will be called
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“The volunteer army is not like a volunteer fire department, in which people serve without pay, or the local soup kitchen, where volunteer workers donate their time. It is a professional army in which soldiers work for pay”(78).

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The Case for the Volunteer Army

Let’s get things clear from the start. Both libertarians and utilitarians have the volunteer army as the best option.

“If you are a libertarian, the answer is obvious. Conscription is unjust because it is coercive, a form of slavery. It implies that the state owns its citizens and can do with them what it pleases, including forcing them to fight and risk their lives in war” (79).

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“But even if you don’t consider conscription equivalent to slavery, you might oppose it on the grounds that it limits people’s choices, and therefore reduces overall happiness” (79).

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“If you assume that a voluntary exchange makes both parties better off, without harming anyone else, you have a good utilitarian case for letting markets rule” (80).

So, both libertarians and utilitarians have the volunteer army as the best option

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There are 2 objections to this line of reasoning

“One objection is about fairness and freedom; the other is about civic virtue and the common good” (81).

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Objection 1: Fairness and Freedom

“The first objection holds that, for those with limited alternatives, the free market is not all that free. Consider an extreme case: A homeless person sleeping under a bridge may have chosen, in some sense, to do so; but we would not necessarily consider his choice to be a free one…In order to know whether his choice reflects a preference for sleeping out of doors or an inability to afford an apartment, we need to know something about his circumstances. Is he doing this freely or out of necessity?” (81).

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How does this apply to military service?

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“The difference between conscription and the volunteer army is not that one is compulsory while the other is free; it’s rather that each employs a different form of compulsion – the force of law in the first case and the pressure of economic necessity in the second” (82).

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“So the first objection to the market rationale for a volunteer army is concerned with unfairness and coercion – the unfairness of class discrimination and the coercion that can occur if economic disadvantage compels young people to risk their lives in exchange for a college education and other benefits” (84).

But take away any coercion, that is, have a society with no one having inequalities, then there is no objection to the volunteer army.

Objection 2: Civic virtue and the common good

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“If military service(or national service) is a civic duty, it’s wrong to put it up for sale on the market” (85).

“The reason we draft jurors rather than hire them is that we regard the activity of dispensing justice in the courts as a responsibility all citizens should share” (85).

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“It(volunteer army) severs the link between the majority of democratic citizens and the soldiers who fight in their name” (86).

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“What, really is the difference between the contemporary volunteer army and an army of mercenaries? Both pay soldiers to fight. Both entice people to enlist by the promise of salary and other benefits. If the market is an appropriate way of raising an army, what exactly is wrong with mercenaries?” (88).

If you reject foreign nationals to join the American military, then you are indeed invoking civic virtue after all, an “expression of citizenship.”

Sandel: “But if you believe that, then you have reason to question the market solution.”

Market logic plays out in two ways, hiring foreign troops and private military contractors.

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“Is there a moral difference between paying Federal Express to deliver the mail and hiring Blackwater to deliver lethal force on the battlefield?”(90).

“Is military service a civic obligation that all citizens have a duty to perform, or is it a hard and risky job like others that is properly governed by the labor market…We’ll be in a better position to decide whether we should draft soldiers or hire them once we explore, later in the book, the basis and scope of civic obligation.

Pregnancy for Pay

The contract was voided because of tainted consent.

Baby selling is wrong no matter what.

Surrogacy Contracts and Justice

How convincing are these objections?

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“Itvoluntary agreement argues that we can exercise free choice only if we’re not unduly pressured (by the need for money, say), and if we’re reasonably well informed about the alternatives” (96).

This is a disagreement between libertarians and the other Rawls concept of freedom.

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“That’s because human beings are persons worthy of respect, not objects to be used. Respect and use are two different modes of valuation” (97).

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“Anderson argues that valuing everything according to utility(or money) degrades those goods and social practices – including children, pregnancy, and parenting – that are properly valued according to higher norms” (98).

“Until we examine these theories of morality and justice, we can’t really determine what goods and social practices should be governed by markets. But the debate over surrogacy, like the argument over the volunteer army, gives us a glimpse of what’s at statke.

Outsourcing Pregnancy

“How free are the choices we make in the free market? And are there certain virtues and higher goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?” (102).