Are markets just?
As tempting as this question is, we should not ask it. The question is a mistake. Not a small mistake. And not simply a mistake from a scholar's point of view.
In spite of much good insight, the thousands of letters to the editors, op-ed pieces, scholarly articles, and books that have been written to answer the question “Are markets just?” have too often hurt our ability to evaluate markets from a moral perspective.
On the one hand, the question has generated simplicities on all sides that have undercut a real dialogue on the issue. Each oversimplification gives the “other side” more reason to give up any hope of a real conversation about the matter. And there is indeed a scandalous absence of authentic conversation about the morality of markets. Commentators on the left and right rarely engage each other's work and often don't even bother to read what their opponents have written, except to deride what they perceive to be the others' weakest arguments.
On the other hand, this question has effectively distracted both scholars and the general public from debates about the real issues that divide us.
The Importance of Context: Ecology
Any analysis of the morality of markets should begin with the recognition that no human institution – not even one as broad as the market – can be adequately understood without reference to its context. It is impossible to evaluate the justice of markets by looking at markets alone.