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Invaluable Goods

Kenneth Arrow

Journal of Economic Literature, 1997, vol. 35, issue 2, 757-765

Abstract: Margaret Jane Radin's new book, Contested Commodities, is reviewed. The book's thesis is that some activities are too close to the intrinsic identity of persons to be proper subjects of the market and that discourse which treats all such activities as commodities can itself create harm. She therefore argues for a concept of "incomplete commodification." The review first locates Radin's thesis as part of a long tradition. Second, it notes that a state-based or legal determination of which goods are so deeply personal is certainly not clearly superior to self-determination in the context of a market. Third, it argues that the effect of discourse on behavior is not empirically clear and that acting on the view that discourse can threaten deep values can lead to limits on freedom.

Date: 1997
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