Dagan and Fisher on Commodification

It doesn’t address religion as such, but a new piece on SSRN, The State and the Market–A Parable: On the State’s Commodifying Effects, raises issues that law and religion scholars may find interesting. Over the last generation, more and more aspects of life have become matters of the market. People can make contracts about lots of things that once were off limits. Some scholars argue that this trend has gone too far, that certain subjects, like family relationships, relate so closely to human personality that their commodifcation does violence to something essential. The authors of this new piece, Tsilly Dagan (Bar-Ilan) and Talia Fisher (Tel Aviv) are skeptical of the anti-commodification position, arguing that state regulation may have commodifying effects as well. Their paper is entirely secular, but religious jurisprudence traditionally opposes commodification as well, and scholars who work in that field may find the discussion of commodification suggestive. The abstract follows.

Commodification has become the central parameter in delineating the contours of the market and in the division of labor between the market and the state. The commodification critique has become a ‘buzz word’ against the market and thus in support of State intervention. In what has been termed “taboo trades” – human organs, reproductive capacities, sexuality and the like – market-based orders have been condemned on the basis of commodification, thus leaving the floor open for state-intervention by regulation. The central argument of this article is that the commodificatory effects, often associated with monetary transactions, are not exclusive to monetized exchanges nor to the market arena. Rather, State intervention, as such, involves similar reductive effects, in light of its inherent itemizing, categorizing and ranking nature. This understanding has a significant implication for the structuring of the market-state debate: In light of the fact that upon closer scrutiny state ordering shares similar commodificatory effects with the market – we argue that it is not enough to raise the commodification banner in order to justify state intervention. Put differently, an implicit premise in the prevailing commodification discourse is that where the market commodifies, the state is necessarily neutral. However, state intervention – we will show – suffers from similar flaws. Another purpose of viewing commodification through the prism of State intervention is to expose the multi-faceted nature of the anti-commodificatory sentiment. Expanding the horizons of the commodification discourse beyond the traditional contexts of taboo markets to the unexplored terrain of state regulation exposes the fact that money is but one instance of a whole family of cases where thick social interactions are translated into a uni-dimensional currency that has a reductive effect on them.

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