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“A Democratic Conception of Fair Exchange in Markets” by Thomas Christiano (University of Arizona)

Date: 3:30pm PDT November 3, 2017 Location: J.R Howard Hall 220

J.R Howard Hall 220

Democratic governance is often thought to be the gold standard of fairness in collective decision making. Fairness in voluntary exchange has not similarly received a fully satisfactory analysis. The most prominent views tend to arrange themselves into two basic camps: the voluntariness conceptions of fair exchange and the equal value conceptions. Though there are insights here, I think both of these fail to grasp the basic structural conditions of fairness in exchange. What I propose to do in this paper is to take the democratic conception of fairness in collective decision making and extend it so that it applies in a distinctive way to voluntary exchange. I think this approach solves some of the puzzles inherent in the other approaches and provides a powerful analysis of the normative principles regulating the structural conditions of voluntary exchange. One further benefit of this approach is that it brings to bear the widely accepted values of democracy to the evaluation of voluntary exchange in a deeply illuminating way, without sacrificing an appreciation of the distinctive features and virtues of voluntary exchange. I want to suggest the fruitfulness of this analysis by applying the democratic conception to market exchange, understood broadly in a neo-classical way. I do not intend to endorse the neo-classical approach, I want simply to show the value of the democratic conception buy showing how it can help evaluate the fairness of markets understood in a neo-classical way. I apply the idea to perfectly competitive markets and to imperfectly competitive markets.


Professor Christiano is the author of the following books.  

  • The Constitution of Equality: Democratic Authority and Its Limits (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • The Rule of The Many: Fundamental Issues in Democratic Theory (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996)
  • Philosophy and Democracy: An Anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
  • Modern Moral and Political Philosophy edited with Robert Cummins (New York: Mayfield Publishers, 1998)


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