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Free Market Fairness [Hardcover]

John Tomasi

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Book Description

Feb. 26 2012 9780691144467 978-0691144467

Can libertarians care about social justice? In Free Market Fairness, John Tomasi argues that they can and should. Drawing simultaneously on moral insights from defenders of economic liberty such as F. A. Hayek and advocates of social justice such as John Rawls, Tomasi presents a new theory of liberal justice. This theory, free market fairness, is committed to both limited government and the material betterment of the poor. Unlike traditional libertarians, Tomasi argues that property rights are best defended not in terms of self-ownership or economic efficiency but as requirements of democratic legitimacy. At the same time, he encourages egalitarians concerned about social justice to listen more sympathetically to the claims ordinary citizens make about the importance of private economic liberty in their daily lives. In place of the familiar social democratic interpretations of social justice, Tomasi offers a "market democratic" conception of social justice: free market fairness. Tomasi argues that free market fairness, with its twin commitment to economic liberty and a fair distribution of goods and opportunities, is a morally superior account of liberal justice. Free market fairness is also a distinctively American ideal. It extends the notion, prominent in America's founding period, that protection of property and promotion of real opportunity are indivisible goals. Indeed, according to Tomasi, free market fairness is social justice, American style.


Provocative and vigorously argued, Free Market Fairness offers a bold new way of thinking about politics, economics, and justice--one that will challenge readers on both the left and right.



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Review

"[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

From the Inside Flap


"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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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bridging Rawls and Hayek March 29 2012
By Ira E. Stoll - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a work of political philosophy that attempts to bridge the divide between what the author defines as the "classical liberalism" of F.A. Hayek, Richard Epstein, Adam Smith, and Milton Friedman with the "high liberalism" of John Rawls. First the author briefly describes the two camps, the main difference being that "classical liberalism" includes a robust set of economic freedoms as among the fundamental rights. Then the author outlines his own concept -- not fully developed, but more of a "research program" -- of "free market fairness" or "market democracy," which would include classical liberalism's full set of economic rights using high liberalism's justificatory framework of social justice. Because economic freedom is essential to what the author calls "self-authorship" -- the ability to control your own destiny -- it benefits the working poor and therefore meets the definition of "social justice."

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.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Challenging Book of Some Philosophical Importance June 26 2012
By Samuel J. Sharp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In "Free Market Fairness" Tomasi discusses two opposing philosophical camps, high liberals and classical liberals/libertarians, and seeks to formulate a political philosophy that honors the social justice commitments of one camp with the economic methods of the other. Readers will differ over whether Tomasi has done this successfully, but his arguments are at least thoughtful and informative. By staking out a middle ground, he remains very polite to both camps and thus readers with particular ideological leanings will not find his tone unappealing or unfair.

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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Attempt to Analyze and Synthesize Liberal Thought July 22 2012
By Big Bad John - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Tomasi is a liberal Democrat who has obviously read widely and thought deeply about his field of political philosophy. In this important book, he first presents a history of liberal thought, then traces developments over the past century that have led us into opposing and dysfunctional camps. The extremes he charts are Left Liberalism (the folks who refer to themselves as "Progressives") and Right Liberalism (often calling themselves "Libertarians"). The difference he highlights is the importance given to property rights. In his view, which he amply supports, the Right overvalues property rights while the Left undervalues them. Tomasi places heavy emphasis on a social justice perspective in which society is moral only if it most benefits those who are least fortunate. After a thorough analysis of the reasons why neither of the current popular extremes is very moral according to this test, he sets out his own model in which property rights are accorded the same value as other fundamental liberties. He attempts to establish that such a regime is potentially superior to those currently advocated by leftist and rightist ideologues. In my view, he succeeds admirably, and this book should be required reading to get your license to vote. Regrettably, his approach is so scholarly and his prose so dense that most people who need his viewpoint will be unable to get through the book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Free Market Fairness Review April 1 2014
By Tim Evans - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book is long and somewhat boring and simply repackages a lot of failed economic policies of government interference into the free market.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good analysis of the essentials of "liberal" thought Nov. 9 2012
By GRiM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I find myself in agreement with almost all of the other reviewers here, and it seems we differ not in concept but only in how many stars to assign. My only major disagreement is that I don't think a background in socio-political economic theory is required - merely a willingness to understand it.

The author does an excellent job of laying out the two trends in liberal thought: Classical liberal (essentially equality of process) vs. Progressive liberal (essentially equality of outcome). It's a great primer on the similarities and differences, and one that should inform any political debate.

So why only three stars?

1. The author likes to hear himself speak - a lot. Not only could this book be shorter, it should be shorter. The repetition actually makes the book harder to understand. It needs to be about half its current length, and better summarized.

2. I'm not sure the author fully understands two very important Classical liberal principles (disclosure - as others have indicated the author is a Progressive liberal, and I am a Classical liberal):

(a) Classical liberals tend to believe that there is a difference between what is "right and just," and what should be compelled. For many Classical liberals, that comes down to a distinction between morality (often grounded in religion) vs. legal compulsion. For example, it is morally excellent of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to donate much of their fortunes to charity. That does not mean it should be compulsory. I think Dr. Tomasi misses this distinction.

(b) Most Classical liberals believe that fundamentally "life isn't fair." No matter how hard you try, you will never achieve equality of outcome. First, accidents of birth inevitably create unequal distribution of intelligence, drive, physical fitness, etc. Second, and perhaps more importantly, competition among biological organisms is inevitable because some goods cannot be shared equally. To give just one example, think of mating rights. Somehow I needed to demonstrate to my wife that I was a fit mate - and no current human society allows (or is likely to allow) unrestricted mating among members of that society (especially as that would likely involve compulsion of one of the parties, which is highly morally repugnant). Most Classical liberals believe that society must care for the disadvantaged, but a failure to understand that "life isn't fair" is a fundamental failure to understand the order of the universe.

Were those two concerns enough to downgrade the book by two stars, despite its intellectual value? In my case, yes. I would look forward to a second, abridged edition that addressed them, however.
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