To presume that markets and market signals can best determine all allocative decisions is to presume that everything can in principle be treated as a commodity. Commodification presumes the existence of property rights over processes, things, and social relations, that a price can be put on them, and that they can be traded subject to legal contract. The market is presumed to work as an appropriate guide – an ethic – for all human action. In practice, of course, every society sets some bounds on where commodification begins and ends. Where the boundaries lie is a matter of contention. Certain drugs are deemed illegal. The buying and selling of sexual favours is outlawed in most US states, though elsewhere it may be legalized, decriminalized, and even state-regulated as an industry. Pornography is broadly protected as a form of free speech under US law although here, too, there are certain forms (mainly concerning children) that are considered beyond the pale. In the US, conscience and honour are supposedly not for sale, and there exists a curious penchant to pursue ‘corruption’ as if it is easily distinguishable from the normal practices of influence-peddling and making money in the marketplace. The commodification of sexuality, culture, history, heritage ; of nature as spectacle or as rest cure ; the extraction of monopoly rents from originality, authenticity, and uniqueness (of works or art, for example)––these all amount to putting a price on things that were never actually produced as commodities. There is often disagreement as to the appropriateness of commodification (of religious events and symbols, for example) or of who should exercise the property rights and derive the rents (over access to Aztec ruins or marketing of Aboriginal art, for example).
A brief history of neoliberalism
Oxford University Press 2005