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Free Market Fairness Hardcover – Feb 26 2012
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"[Free Market Fairness's] aim is to question opposed modes of thought and find a way between them. Saying that his book was written for 'ideologically uncommitted readers,' Mr. Tomasi invites them and others to join him in exploring the ideas he has outlined. It is an invitation well worth accepting, especially in an election year."--Adam Wolfson, Wall Street Journal
"An extremely interesting and important project."--Ethics
"[I]mportant"--Andrew KoppelmanNotre Dame Philosophical Reviews
"In many respects, [Tomasi] is a classical liberal, but he also retains a strong commitment to the worst off in society. He is a supporter of both free-market capitalism and of safety nets. His goal is to combine economic liberty and social justice. In attempting to transcend the standard positions, he should be commended."--Daniel Ben-Ami, Spiked Review of Books
"Tomasi is a useful corrective to both Rawls and Hayek."--Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
"Brilliant. . . . The heart of Tomasi's book entails serious engagement with John Rawls and his liberal theory of justice as fairness."--Ryan T. Anderson, Weekly Standard
"Tomasi takes a significant step beyond classical and some types of social democratic liberalism in an attempt to find common ground. . . . Tomasi's 'market democracy' contributes important insight to the continuing political-economic debate."--Choice
"One could hardly imagine John Tomasi's Free Market Fairness coming along at a more opportune time. Stump-speech rhetoric seems to have turned its attention (at least nominally) towards the concept of fairness. . . . The proper role of government is up for debate again. . . . Tomasi offers a clear-headed exploration of these and other issues during a moment of noticeable obtuseness and obfuscation in American politics [as] an accident of timing, incidental to his larger project, which is both ambitious and deeply needed."--Robert Herritt, Policy Review
"Free Market Fairness is both an excellent book and an important one. What makes a work of philosophy valuable is not that it arrives at all the right conclusions, but that it asks the right questions, makes us think, and causes us to re-examine our assumptions. Free Market Fairness does all of those things. For this reason, it is appropriate to describe the book as seminal."--John Hasnas, Regulation
"John Tomasi has written a spirited, accessible book that successfully argues the classical liberal tradition . . . of private economic liberty as a necessary and equal partner with social and political liberties in a free and just democratic society. This integrated, constructive approach . . . also recognizes the importance of social justice, a high liberal concept that he redefines by employing the principles of classical liberal thought. . . . Tomasi has provided the intellectual and justificatory framework for classical liberal adherents to robustly explore opportunities in a market-democracy research program."--Thomas A. Hemphill, Journal of Markets and Morality
"Free Market Fairness is a fine book that merits promotion, a merit raise, a cohort of graduate students, a fine reputation, and all the other benefits of academic life. The book is well written and well researched. The arguments are clearly stated and well defended. Political thinkers of all stripes will benefit from Tomasi's discussion of classical liberalism and libertarianism."--Mark A. Graber, Review of Politics
"A landmark publication in political philosophy."--Res Publica
"John Tomasi is to be applauded for endeavoring to restore among contemporary philosophy professors an appreciation of the political and moral virtues of classical economic liberalism, highlighting . . . its benefits for all citizens, especially the 'less advantaged,' while distinguishing it from the dogmatic, apolitical libertarianism that tends in practice to weaken support for economic (and hence political) freedom."--David Lewis Schaefer, Society
"Tomasi has done us all a service by starting, if not by ending, this important conversation."--John Thrasher, Public Choice
"Tomasi presents a powerful vision of 'social justice, American style' . . . [and] provides a refreshing framework for thinking about the ability of free markets and limited government to preserve the conditions in which justice can be realized, and it is particularly noteworthy for seeking to engage with egalitarian liberals on their own terms. . . . Tomasi's primary goal is to challenge the existing paradigms for thinking about the relationship between markets and justice. At this task, he emphatically succeeds."--Keith Hankins, Journal of Moral Philosophy
"[This book] will be greatly helpful to students of political philosophy and political economy, especially for those whose interests lie in economic inequality and economic Justin."--Sojin Shin, Political Studies Review
From the Back Cover
"This book provides an original defense of classical liberalism. Tomasi argues that the high liberal conception of free and equal moral persons requires robust economic liberties as a condition of individual independence and self-authorship, while also justifying social supports for the less advantaged. Free Market Fairness is an important contribution to liberal thought."--Samuel Freeman, University of Pennsylvania
"Tomasi's 'market democracy' is a fresh, important research program."--Elizabeth Anderson, University of Michigan
"The great political power of free market ideas in recent decades has been unmatched by philosophical and moral defenses. John Tomasi's fresh exploration of market liberty will challenge orthodoxies left and right. An important and timely book."--Stephen Macedo, Princeton University
"This is one of the very best philosophical treatments of libertarian thought, ever. John Tomasi cements his position as one of America's leading social and political philosophers."--Tyler Cowen, author of Creative Destruction
"This book represents the most ambitious recent effort by a political philosopher to square the circle: free markets and fairness. Even readers who disagree with Tomasi's conclusions will find insight and clarity on every page."--Richard Epstein, New York University
"Tomasi's elegant book resembles a long and friendly conversation between Friedrich Hayek and John Rawls--a conversation which, astonishingly, reaches agreement."--Deirdre McCloskey, author of Bourgeois Dignity and The Bourgeois Virtues
"Tomasi is sympathetic to, and captures much of the point of, positions to the right of his, and positions to the left. The result is disarming and genuine. Readers will find themselves turning the pages, hoping not so much to spot the flaw as simply to learn something, and they will not be disappointed."--David Schmidtz, University of Arizona
"This book makes a case that needed making and that will have a large impact on contemporary thinking about social justice."--Michael Zuckert, University of Notre Dame
"Hayekian freedom and Rawlsian social justice both evoke attractive visions of how human beings might live together--something seldom acknowledged in our polarized political world. John Tomasi's Free Market Fairness treats both traditions with depth, nuance, and unremitting fair-mindedness, and then points us toward a synthesis. Social democrats and libertarians equally need to read this book."--Charles Murray, American Enterprise Institute
"Political philosophers are apt to dig in to carefully constructed ideological bunkers from which they lob argumentative mortar shells at their opponents. John Tomasi prefers instead to build bridges. Well-crafted and provocative, Free Market Fairness will surely stimulate much conversation--and perhaps a few mortar rounds in response."--Loren Lomasky, University of Virginia
"This is a terrific book--lively, stimulating, novel, and important. Written with clarity and lightness, it is appealingly wide-ranging, spanning political philosophy, intellectual history, and more. It will be widely read and cited."--Jacob T. Levy, McGill University
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The book is dense (though short) and written for the most part at a high level of abstraction (though the flashes of specificity, as when the author defines rent-seeking by talking about a domestic light-bulb manufacturing firm lobbying for a tariff on imports, are lively and welcome when they arise). As a reader whose politics come closer to the classical liberal side of it, I wasn't entirely persuaded by the author's (or Rawls') framework for judging fairness or justice in terms of how something most helps the poor. But I learned a lot about various concepts of fairness and justice from this book, and it also made me examine my own thinking about these things. The stuff about how even classical liberals like Hayek and Von Mises sometimes talked about their preferred policies as helping the poor was particularly interesting, as was the attempt to justify redistribution decisions reached in a democracy as a Hayekian "spontaneous order" (at least I think that is what the author was attempting to do, though I may have gotten confused.) All in all, if you can follow the philosophizing even 70% of the way, this is a worthwhile book, particularly for those who already have some familiarity with Hayek or Rawls, or for Rawlsians who like markets and capitalism and for Hayekians who want to help the poor.
Stylistically, the book is a work of philosophy aimed towards fellow academics and political thinkers. This means the general reader will not always be able to follow Tomasi's arguments and may grow frustrated with the number of questions that are posed but not answered. A high degree of familiarity with previous works in the field (Rawls, Hayek, Nozick) will be very helpful in understanding how Tomasi constructs his system. I would not recommend this book to anyone who has not previously encountered those authors.
Tomasi proceeds cautiously and repeatedly professes to be presenting a mere "research program" which is aimed to stimulate a discussion rather than Tomasi himself laying out specific, forceful arguments for his own conclusions. A reader seeking a definitive philosophical statement from this book will instead find discussions, suggestions, and qualified proposals. That being said, the book does have high points and in Chapter 8 when Tomasi focuses in on free market fairness was full the clarity and conviction that the beginning of the book lacked. This book deserves 3.5 stars because it brings an impressive amount of background knowledge to bear on important subject. Unfortunately, because of the book's complexity and lack of concrete material, a lot of readers will give up after a few chapters and even those who struggle to the end will wonder if they really learned anything new. I hope Tomasi follows up with a more approachable book because he clearly does have something meaningful to offer.
A more provocative way to put what Tomasi gives us in this book is a Rawlsian libertarianism. I over simply here, but Tomasi essentially takes the core premises of Rawls’ conception of justice as fairness and uses it to defend a kind of libertarianism. Or rather, he argues that a proper understanding of what is required by justice as fairness and the moral premises behind it is best realized in a regime that thoroughly protects economic liberty (alongside—and for similar reasons—political liberty). Further, the demands of social justice are best met under such a system as well.
Whatever you might ultimately think about the overall argument (and I remain skeptical though sympathetic), you have to give Tomasi credit for engaging in this huge revisionary project. At worst, it is an engaging and enlightening exercise to see what might happen if you accept Rawlsian starting points but add to it the moral importance of economic liberty. It’s an interesting way to learn about and further one’s understanding of Rawls (as well as economic liberty). At best, Tomasi has put forward a program the reunites the divided liberal house and sets it a more solid moral foundation.
Ultimately, I don’t think Tomasi’s project is successful on the latter account. This is because I do not think the moral foundations upon which the project is based are the correct ones. Nevertheless, the book is worth a read by anyone interested in liberty or justice. If you more libertarian minded, you will get a presentation of the modern liberal point of view that is fair, charitable, and clear. This better prepares you to understand the philosophical viewpoint that you are up against without misrepresentation or oversimplification. If you more in the Rawlsian vein, you ought to read it because it will challenge many of the ways you might think about justice as fairness and related ideas. Either way, you may not come to agree with Tomasi but you will most certainly learn something.
Tomasi describes the debate as having three levels -- political philosophy, political policy, and public policy. The first concerns justice and regime types. It concerns morality and institutional arrangements -- what kind of government (regime type) is best, markets, and how extensive *economic* liberties should be. Socialist, social democratic, welfare state, and limited government (classical liberal and libertarian) are the main candidates for regime type. It includes concern for how the least well-off members of society are treated. The different positions mostly agree on civil or political rights. Tomasi calls the left liberal position on economic rights "thin" and the classical liberal or libertarian position "thick." Left liberals care a lot about "social justice" and equality. Their idea of equality concerns results, not just opportunity. Classical liberals and libertarians care a lot more about private property rights, especially property used as means of production. The second level concerns the feasibility of alternative regime types. How well will they in practice meet the expectations formed in the ivory tower? Classical liberals and libertarians are far more concerned about feasibility than left liberals, who give more weight to intentions. The third level, which doesn't get much attention by political philosophers, concerns the particulars of government -- laws and practices. Libertarians are often portrayed as having no concern for the least well-off in society, but Tomasi even finds concern for them by Ayn Rand, an advocate of laissez faire capitalism, in her novel Atlas Shrugged.
The leading theorists presented are Rawls and Kant (less so) for high liberalism, Adam Smith and F. A. Hayek for classical liberalism. Leading libertarian theorists such as Robert Nozick get lesser attention. This is likely because Tomasi's main purpose is to formulate a "market democracy" that he advocates as a better middle ground between the other regime types. It combines preferring free markets embraced by classical liberals and libertarians and the concern for social justice and fairness embraced by left liberals. That pretty much explains the book's title. Left liberals are very skeptical about the moral goodness of Hayek's spontaneous order with very free markets with little room for government intervention. Hayek's spontaneous order contrasts with governmental command order. Hayek viewed "social justice" as a cloak for coercion by government. Tomasi believes greater economic liberties will indirectly lead to greater social justice and greater fairness and a lot more prosperity. Tomasi is sympathetic to Hayek's view of the role that knowledge plays in free markets and critical of the lack of knowledge that left liberals have about people in general and their values.
The institution that gets the most attention is government. In the last part of the book Tomasi presents more details about his idea of market democracy and free market fairness. I believe his presentation could have been stronger had he given more attention to other sorts of institutions or organizations that exist in a spontaneous order along with for-profit businesses and contribute to justice and fairness -- private charities, help groups, and other nonprofits such as cooperatives, trade associations, and professional organizations.
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