Markets and morality

We have been attending the 12th Annual International Conference on Contracts (KCON XII) at Southwestern Law School in downtown Los Angeles this weekend (fun!). One of our favorite talks at the conference was by Nathan Oman, a law professor at the College of William & Mary, who presented his new book The Dignity of Commerce: Markets and the Moral Foundations of Contract Law (U Chicago Press, 2017). In summary, Professor Oman argues that the main purpose of the law of contracts is to promote commerce and well-functioning markets. Moreover, he claims that markets are morally desirable in and of themselves. Why? Because markets not only promote economic efficiency (i.e. the allocation of assets to their highest valued uses); markets also facilitate social cooperation and communal harmony. Specifically, markets enable people to serve the needs of others and cooperate in mutually beneficial ways even in the absence of political, religious, or ideological agreement. (This last point–the ability of markets to meet human needs and bring diverse and self-interested actors together–deserves more attention in the legal academy.) 

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