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The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order Paperback – November 12, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (November 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674066162
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674066168
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,063,327 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Not only is the "free" market of laissez-faire doctrine not free, it underpins the extravagant unfreedom of our metastasized penal system, argues this provocative intellectual history. Law professor and political scientist Harcourt advances two awkwardly intersecting arguments. The first, supported by his revealing comparison of police regulations governing 18th-century Paris's grain market with the rules of today's Chicago Board of Trade, asserts that even supposedly free markets are saturated with arbitrary and biased regulation. The second, based on insightful readings of free market ideologues from 18th-century Physiocrats to latter-day "law and economics" theorists like Richard Posner, argues that the influential concept of the marketplace as a "natural order" that should remain outside government control implies its obverse: a "neoliberal penality" of harsh state-supervised punishment for criminals who defy the market's ethos. (America, with its market-worshipping politics and swollen prisons, is his main exhibit.) The author mounts an incisive attack on the association of markets with freedom and government with repression, but his linkage of free market theory with the lockdown state is tenuous. The result is a stimulating challenge to conventional wisdom--which sometimes overreaches. (Jan.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

The Illusion of Free Markets is a beautifully written and well-researched book that addresses two subjects of great contemporary significance: the conceptualization of market exchange as "free" and "natural," and the expansion of the American penal system. The book argues that the way we think about markets has shaped—indeed, distorted—the way we think about criminal justice, and it is time to rethink both. Harcourt's claims will spur lively and much needed debate. (Alice Ristroph, Seton Hall University)

Bernard Harcourt has never had an uninteresting thought, or made an argument that does not provoke or engage or delight or enlighten—or do all of those things simultaneously. (Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell)

Bernard Harcourt has two urgent lessons to teach. The first is that there are no "free" markets, only markets regulated in different ways and by different means. The second is that libertarian devotion to free markets tends to march in step with authoritarian devotion to coercion, the punitive carceral state. This brilliant book, beautifully written and illustrated with a wealth of fascinating detail -- is a subtle and penetrating study of the origins and development of some of our principal modern illusions. (Robert W. Gordon, Yale University)

Bernard Harcourt's magisterial book makes a strong and persuasive case for the tight connection of the invisible hand of neoliberal 'free' markets and the iron fist of carceral policies. His erudite blend of history, political thought and economic theory lays bare the dark side of neoliberal penality. We ignore his powerful democratic voice and view at our own peril! (Cornel West, author of Democracy Matters and Race Matters)

In this intrepid book, Harcourt excavates the historical genealogy of the twin myths of the 'free market' and the 'diligent police' to illumine the current American predicament of steep social inequality and gargantuan prisons. From Quesnay to Bentham to Ronald Coase and Gary Becker, he reveals that the current idolatry of the market finds its roots in successive declinations of the eighteenth-century notion of 'natural order,' which fosters both minimal government in economic matters and maximal government in law and order. By retracing how market naturalism and penal despotism come to form the two sides of the same conception of the state, The Illusions of Free Markets offers a bracing critique of neoliberal reason that will stimulate wide debate and heated controversy. (Loïc Wacquant, author of Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity)

An ambitious and sophisticated exploration of the ideological roots of what might well be the central paradox of modern American culture -- that we insist that we are the leaders of the 'free world' while incarcerating more people per capita than any other country on the planet. (David Cole, Georgetown University)

The Illusion of Free Markets explores the concept of natural order that underlies so much of free market economic thought—particularly the Chicago School. Bernard Harcourt's insights into how our economic rhetoric influences the United States' acceptance of incarceration are particularly rich. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to think seriously about those two natural antagonists: markets and democracy. (Lester Thurow, author of Head to Head, The Future of Capitalism, and The Zero-Sum Society)

Not only is the "free" market of laissez-faire doctrine not free, it underpins the extravagant unfreedom of our metastasized penal system, argues this provocative intellectual history...The author mounts an incisive attack on the association of markets with freedom and government with repression...The result is a stimulating challenge to conventional wisdom. (Publishers Weekly)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Donald A. Planey on September 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Harcourt's "The Illusion of Free Markets" is exactly the kind of book you should be reading right now. It's an impressive study of one of the most influential ideas in Western history in its origins, evolution, and the continual danger it poses for democracy.

Harcourt presents the reader with two engaging stories that highlight the contradictions of neo-liberalism, the "grain police" in royal France and the modern Chicago Board of Trade. The grain police were an organization dedicated to regulating grain markets and enforcing prices in the name of the public good, and were used as an example of an il-liberal institution by many early pro-market thinkers. However, the Chicago Board of Trade, perhaps one of the best examples of neo-liberal trade in action, is also defined by strict codes and harshly enforced rules of behavior, without which this vitally important market wouldn't even exist. Harcourt asks the reader why this change in perception in Western political culture occurred, and carries out a Foucaultian historical genealogy of the relationship between liberalism and criminality, or, the strange paradox of liberalism's dual faith in a "natural" economic order and the imperative to constantly correct the behavior of human individuals.

Much of the first half of the book is dedicated to documenting the co-evolution of the concept of an attainable "natural order" in economics and the way early political theorists conceived of criminality. The French physiocrats argued that economics naturally ordered itself, while human behavior required strict regulation. However, the Italian theorist of human punishment Cesare Beccaria began to influence Western political philosophers as diverse as Quesnay, Benetham, and even the Chicago school of law and economics in modern times.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Brian A. Mcbride on March 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fascinating ideas. But golly such repetitive writing. The editors did the author a disservice but not streamlining his arguments. I'm a generalist and my love for the subject isn't strong enough to drive me through repetitions of the same idea in slightly different clothes.
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Format: Hardcover
The author has done an excellent job in this book.He carefully shows how the entire edifice of "modern" economic thought,as applied to markets,government and prisons, is based on the act utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham's rule to Maximize Utility.This required economists to accept Bentham's claims, about the ability of the average man and women to have the skills and knowledge to quantify all probabilities and outcomes exactly in a manner that would always result in the attainment of a maximal benefit or outcome,as correct.Keynes had already demonstrated in his A Treatise on Probability in 1921 (1908 Cambridge Fellowship Dissertation)that Bentham's model,resurrected by Frank Ramsey as the personalist,or subjectivist Bayesian, approach to probability,was a very special case that had very limited applicability in the real world.

One error that appears in this book is the belief that there was some kind of connection or agreement between Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham on areas in economics and ethics.In fact,Smith ,a virtue ethicist who recognized the great damage speculative behavior can do to an economy, completely rejected Bentham's positions in toto.
I recommend this book for purchase.
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Format: Paperback
It was really good, but not perfect-- it was, at times, tedious, and the Foucauldian methodology ends up limiting an analysis that seriously needs more economic elucidation. It does offer an advance over Foucault, though, because it actually confronts some of Foucault's unsavory interest in neoliberal economic doctrine (despite being too savvy for its political doctrine) by expanding the discourse of economic discipline not only to the ancien regime's grain regulations but also the legal mechanisms required to sustain a market.

The stuff on the Physiocrats is essential, especially since so much literature on the topic is either expensive or untranslated. But the reading of English liberalism is limited to Smith and Bentham, and mostly reviews the literature indefinitely (and some of the genealogy gets messy, especially with Hayek, but a lot of that has to do with how astoundingly poor Hayek's understanding of intellectual history is)-- it really could have benefited from even a cursory reading of Hobbes and Locke, the former's development of a private/public sphere (where freedom lives where the law ends) and the explicit naturalization of "industriousness" that makes Locke's state predicated on facilitating commerce (and not simply order, like Hobbes; Locke has the same talk where non-industriousness is irrational and inhuman, etc.)**. To quote Rousseau's First Discourse, "Ancient politicians spoke only about morals and virtues. Ours speak only of commerce and money." But the Physiocratic relationship to legal absolutism and the governance in Martinique is really fascinating and merits reading on that alone. Same for the discussion of penal proliferation in the Market Revolution of Jacksonian America.

The reading of Hayek is really incomplete (only one mention of Burke?
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