Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date

2009

Center/Program

Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment

Abstract

What work do the categories “the free market” and “regulation” do for us? Why do we incarcerate one out of every one hundred adults? These seemingly unrelated questions, it turns out, are deeply interconnected. The categories of free and regulated markets emerged as an effort to make sense of irreducibly individual phenomena - unique forms of market organization. In the process, these categories helped shape our belief that the economic realm is characterized by natural order and equilibrium, and that the only legitimate sphere of government intervention is policing and punishment. The consequences have been devastating: first, in distorting and expanding the penal sphere beyond our worst possible imagination, and, second, in naturalizing and masking the regulatory mechanisms of contemporary markets that massively redistribute wealth. In this paper, Professor Harcourt challenges the categories themselves and asks us to imagine a world where the terms “free” and “regulated” markets no longer exist.

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