Review of Oman, The Dignity of Commerce (2017)

We are taking a break from bayesian voting (see our last few blog posts) to share with our loyal followers our review of Nathan Oman’s book The Dignity of Commerce: Markets and the Moral Foundations of Contract Law (University of Chicago Press, 2017). Our book review was published on 17 July 2017 in The New Rambler; below is an excerpt of our review (footnote omitted):

Part I is the best part of Oman’s book by far. Here, Oman explains how markets do more to promote “other-regarding behavior” in a pluralistic moral world (our world!) than other moral systems do. Why are markets such powerful drivers of morality? Among other things, Oman restates two important features about the process of contracting that, combined, work to incentivize pro-social behavior: First, “Each party to a market exchange has at least the nominal power to veto the transaction…. Second, exchange requires that each party pursue the other party’s interests to achieve his or her own interest” (p. 44). Although these oft-overlooked axioms about markets can be traced back to such 18th century savants as Adam Smith and Montesquieu (the classical “doux commerce” thesis of markets), Oman weaves them together in support of the following well-worn observation about the meta-morality of markets: the idea that markets create a transcendental space or robust framework in which people with radically different moral, religious, political views can cooperate with each other in mutually beneficial ways, or in Oman’s eloquent words: “Markets facilitate peaceful cooperation and coexistence in a pluralistic society” (p. 67).

Image result for doux commerce

Credit: Charles Angaud, via SlideShare

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