Bernard Harcourt, "Neoliberal Penality: A Genealogy of Excess"

What work do the categories "the free market" and "regulation" do for us? Why do we incarcerate one out of every one hundred adults? These seemingly unrelated questions, it turns out, are deeply interconnected. The categories of free and regulated markets emerged as an effort to make sense of irreducibly individual phenomena—unique forms of social organization. In the process, the categories helped shape the dominant belief that the economic realm is characterized by natural order, and that the only legitimate sphere of government intervention is policing and punishment. The consequences have been devastating: first, in distorting and expanding the penal sphere beyond our worst possible dreams, and, second, in naturalizing and masking the regulatory mechanisms inherent to all markets that massively redistribute wealth. In this CBI, Professor Harcourt challenges these categories and asks us to imagine a world where the terms "free" and "regulated" markets no longer exist.

This talk was recorded May 21, 2009 as part of the Chicago's Best Ideas lecture series