It is a pleasure and an honour to introduce Professor Bernard Harcourt to the Lake for a discussion of The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of the Natural Order. The book advances several claims that go to the heart of libertarian ideology. For FDL readers probably the most important claim holds that belief in the efficacy of unregulated markets naturally to secure maximum economic and social well-being has as its counterpart the assertion that the role of government is properly confined to the spheres of criminal justice, national defense, and the protection of private property. Harcourt considers it no coincidence (Comrade, as we used to say in my cell), that the nation where free-market ideology is most pervasive has the world’s highest rates of penal incarceration by an order of magnitude, and that the rising incarceration rate since the mid-1970s is synchronous with the ascendance of an exceptionally rabid free-market ideology.
There is a deeper set of intellectual issues at play, however. What exactly do we mean by ’free markets’?