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Lamenting the Demise of Slavery?

Here’s a letter to a publication called red pepper (HT Steve McDuffie):

Lamenting the emergence of the modern market order, Tom Malleson asserts that “A market society requires that the most basic constituent parts of society – labour, land, and money – come under the sway of the market.  They have to be commodified.  But labour and land are not naturally commodities – they do not exist, like widgets, for the purpose of sale.  They can only ever be what [Karl] Polanyi calls ‘fictitious commodities'” (“Countering capitalism,” March 2011).

Contrary to Mr Malleon’s insinuation, over the past few hundred years money has become more a creature of the state and less a creature of the market.

As for labour and land, Mr Malleson is correct: in recent centuries these have indeed been exchanged more and more freely in open markets – a development that has emancipated ordinary men and women from millennia in serfdom and slavery (what ‘non-commodified labour’ always is in practice), and enabled them to enjoy what, for most of recorded history, was enjoyed only by princes and priests: ownership of land and the prosperity and protection that such ownership makes possible.

Donald J. Boudreaux


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