Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy


Markets, Autonomy enhancement


Markets are complex phenomena with heterogeneous manifestations. They involve different types of goods and services and can be structured around different property and contract types. This plurality of markets justifies a careful attitude towards the definition of a market. It also counsels some suspicion towards overly-broad normative judgments, be they celebratory or critical, launched at markets-as-such.

But markets are powerful institutions that significantly impact individuals, affect relationships, and shape societies. They should thus be subject to critical scrutiny vis-A-vis the various goals that justify the complex legal arrangements which sustain them. Promoting social welfare, rewarding desert, inculcating virtues, and spreading power are all worthy objectives that deserve their prominent status in this crucial exercise. But at least for a liberal polity, facilitating our self-authorship must be the fundamental goal.

Markets play a vital autonomy-enhancing role of enabling mobility and expanding options. Appreciating the significance of these functions and their emancipatory potential implies that liberal polities should strive to shape markets in line with this telos of the market. I do not pretend to have offered an exhaustive treatment of this challenge in this short Article; 10 1 but I do hope that I have made some progress and, even more significantly, demonstrated the promise of this endeavor.