Institutional pluralism and the limits of the market

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 8 (4):420-447 (2009)
Abstract
This paper proposes a theory of institutional pluralism to deal with the question whether and to what extent limits should be placed on the market. It reconceives the pluralist position as it was presented by Michael Walzer and others in several respects. First, it argues that the options on the institutional menu should not be principles of distribution but rather economic mechanisms or ‘modes of provision’. This marks a shift from a distributive to a provisional logic. Second, it argues that we should drop the assumption that any good should only be placed in one sphere, i.e. distributed according to one distributive principle. This marks a shift to ‘complex pluralism’: for at least some goods it is appropriate that they are provided through the market and through one or more non-market alternatives simultaneously. Finally, it argues that the often used conventionalist justification should be traded for a capability approach to the moral evaluation of markets and non-market alternatives. Any institutional option on our menu has value to the extent that it enhances the morally relevant capabilities of the producers and/or consumers of the good that is to be provided. This approach will be illustrated with two examples of goods for which it yields complex pluralist conclusions: the provision of care and the provision of media content
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