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The Art of Passing a Free Flying Elephant through the Eye of a Needle

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Edip Yuksel

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"Like views in the classical liberal tradition, however, market democracy affirms the economic liberties of capitalism as basic rights. These include weighty rights of working, transacting, holding and using. Many libertarians ground their concern for economic liberty on some principle of self-ownership; classical liberal thinkers typically defend economic liberties because of their (hoped-for) positive effect on the economy over time. Market democracy, by contrast, sees a moral ideal of society and personhood as the most appropriate foundation for rights. According to market democracy, a thick conception of economic liberty is needed for citizens to exercise and develop the moral capacities they have as responsible self-authors. This is the core idea of market democracy, and we shall examine the moral case for it in a moment. For now, note that market democracy affirms a thick conception of economic liberty as a requirement of democratic citizenship."

~ John Tomasi, from the draft of his upcoming book Free Market Fairness, Chapter 4, p. 78 

I enjoyed Professor John Tomasi's (Brown University) presentation and discussion in front of a room-full audience specializing in political philosophy, in which the University of Arizona is ranked first in the USA. [1] Compared to laser-focused graduate students in the audience, I had hard time following the angels dancing on the cracks of the details of issues discussed by modern Political philosophers. I am even more an outsider regarding the further details among the sub-branches of a particular branch. Thus, I benefited from the comparative table put on the board, which will be published in the fourth chapter of Tomasi's upcoming book, Free Market Fairness:

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[The table is missing because of the formatting problem]

I was also impressed by Tomasi's humility and appreciation of criticisms directed by students and professors in the audience. Tomasi's response to my sharp criticism was also calm and gracious. I know, in this short paper, I have to ignore all the great points and arguments raised by him. I will ignore his sleepless nights and deep thoughts trying to construct his arguments. I may also ignore his vested interest in this book and perhaps his potential interest working for the Koch Brothers for more deregulation. [2] So, please do not consider my criticism as an assessment on the merits of his whole work; I mostly focused on chapter four. I ended up with semi-philosophical and semi-political reaction.

In this paper, I occasionally let the emotions run in my reaction, since I do not have intention to submit it to a journal. As long as our emotions are led and controlled by reason, I think they are an important ingredient of being a moral agent. Morality cannot exist without empathy. However, even if I do not agree with many of his arguments, I would still respect Tomasi's work since it helps me and others to clarify further our positions and sharpen our swords against the wolves under sheeps' clothing, this time under "market democracy."

I think that depicting Free Market as one of the basic rights of "democratic citizens" in par with other basic rights requiring strict scrutiny is like trying to push a camel through the eye of a needle. Here is why.

Minimum Taxation and Minimum regulation

I concede that Tomasi's position is less extreme than those of the Libertarians who consider ownership as the most important and an absolute right that should not be encumbered by taxation to promote the welfare of the society. After referring to Kant's political philosophy, which justifies taxation of property to help those who cannot provide for natural needs, Tomasi is forced to peel a thin layer from his "thick conception" of property rights:

"Market democracy's affirmation of a tax-funded social safety net programs follows this pattern. This very status of people as responsible self-authors may be threatened by conditions of extreme need. The state must be empowered to act to protect people's moral status as self-authors. But, unlike many traditional classical liberals, market democracy's justification of the safety net is thoroughly principled. After all, the same reasons that market democracy uses to justify the social safety net also justify the market democratic position against the pervasive encroachments on economic liberty allowed by high liberals such as Rawls. Without constitutional guarantees protecting the independent economic decision-making, people cannot fully executrices their moral powers of self-authorship." (Ibid, p. 84)

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Tomasi is proposing a system whose default rule is freedom of market. Let the free market work miracles! "But the tendency of market democratic regimes is to look to market-based solutions before turning to simple regulatory ones." (p. 89) He welcomes anti-discriminatory regulations, albeit more for the public sector, and regulations aiming to prevent deception and fraud and setting monetary policy (p. 89). He thinks that the government should have "some ability to regulate work hours/wages/conditions" (p. 90), but he also hopes that those regulations to be kept in minimum, since he thinks that economic growth is "an antidote to the problem of worker vulnerability in post-industrial societies." (p. 90).

The perpetual money-making machine!

As for the major concern of our times, environmental issues, Tomasi is utopist and comes up with a very thin conception that contradicts our experience with the free market in the last century. Regarding consumerism, he assures us that "It is fundamental to market democracy to see people not only as consumers of goods but as producers and innovators too." (p. 91). I would like to believe this assurance, but knowing how greed has been the engine of private markets and how they would prefer hiring robots to humans if they could make more profits, I am not that optimistic. As for environmental sustainability, Tomasi wants us to believe that "market democracy advocates growth only within the boundaries of long term environmental sustainability (p. 91)." Somehow, through his binocular, he sees "capitalism and environmentalism as standing in a potentially positive relationship to each other." (p. 91).

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EDIP YUKSEL, J.D. is a progressive American-Turkish-Kurdish author/philosopher/lawyer/activist (too many hyphens and slashes, I know). His recent English books "Quran: a Reformist Translation", "Manifesto for Islamic Reform", and "NINETEEN: God's (more...)
 

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