The Market’s Place in the Provision of Goods


Which goods should we be able to buy and sell on the market and, alternatively, which goods should remain sheltered from the market? For many goods in modern societies, this has proven to be a thorny question. Moreover, it is a question that cannot be answered by way of a theoretical shortcut, that is, by attributing certain general values (or disvalues) to the market and inferring from these general attributes that the market is (or isn’t) the best institution to govern the provision of a specific good. Therefore, in the first part of this work, three theoretical building blocks are proposed to frame the way we should handle the market question. First, a social theory is formulated which treats the market as one out of five main socio-economic modes of provision, the others being public provision, professional provision, informal provision and self-provision. Second, in choosing the best institutional framework for a specific good, it is argued that we should not restrict ourselves to the option of implementing one of these modes of provision only. Special attention should be paid to the option of ‘institutional pluralism’, i.e. instituting a market and a non-market alternative simultaneously for the same good. Both the attractions and the limits of such an institutional pluralism are discussed. Third, in making institutional choices about these modes of provision, we need a normative theory providing the moral criteria to guide our choices. Here a capability theory is proposed, which consists of three central principles, parallel to a distinction between three types of capabilities: those that are ‘immoral’, those that are ‘morally required’ and those that are merely ‘morally permissible’. The principles prescribe avoiding the realization of the immoral capabilities and promoting the realization of morally required and permissible capabilities. In the second part, this threefold framework is applied to three specific goods. These are security (protection against criminal threats), media (mass communication by media such as television, radio and the press) and care (caring activities provided on a structural basis to dependents such as care for children, chronically ill and elderly people). For each of these goods a capability analysis shows that the most appropriate institutional framework is institutional pluralism. In the case of security this is a pluralism of market and public provision, in the case of media a pluralism of market and professional provision and in the case of care a pluralism of market and informal provision. In the final chapter I investigate the conditions that have to be fulfilled for these institutionally pluralist arrangements to be stable, that is, to have a robust chance of survival. The main challenge to stability comes from the dynamic toward capital accumulation that is inherent in contemporary capitalism, and if left unchecked requires an ongoing conversion of non-market practices into markets. Two solutions are proposed to counter this threat: a general working time reduction which reduces capital accumulation and a strategy of publicly funded investment of accumulated capital in non-market parts of institutionally pluralist practices.

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