How much for a book dedication...?
By Alberto Mingardi
Peter Jaworski and Jason Brennan are conducting an interesting experiment. They wrote a book, to be published by Routledge, on “commodification”–one of the evils of capitalist societies, according to anti-market intellectuals at least since Marx. But even non-Marxists frequently argue that well, you can’t (you shouldn’t) really buy everything.
Love you can’t buy, nor friendship. Many argue that it is unethical to buy organs (whereas it is not to be the beneficiary of an organ donation). Others think blood donors shouldn’t be corrupted by monetary compensation: the supply of blood donations is supposed to be satisfactorily matched to the demand for blood by hospitals, and blood is something that should be given away for free, instead of seeking compensation, making our society as a whole a better place to live. It is good–for social cohesion at the very least–that something is done voluntarily but free of charge.
Brennan and Jaworski apparently challenge this line of reasoning, and argue that “there are no inherent limits to markets. Everything you may give away you may sell, and everything you may take for free you may buy.” Interestingly enough, they are also trying to prove the point with an experiment they are running online. They are “commodifying” scholarship. Well, to a point. Their book is written and their thesis is already defined. What they are selling is the right to appear in the acknowledgement (see here), so that you can be thanked for having supported their work, together with the colleagues who helped and the institution that supported their scholarship. Furthermore, participants in the experiment might also appear in the book dedication. The procedure for being awarded a mention in the book dedication is quite complex and it will be interesting to see what comes out of it. The authors guarantee that “our intention is spend all the money we raise from commodifying the book on self-gratification, or to invest the money; not a single cent will be donated to charity.” This attempt to “commodify” the book dedication is somehow a matter of consistency, in the case of book written for the sake of defending commodification. Critics may argue that Jaworski and Brennan aren’t really “commodifying” their scholarship, but that is a rather trivial detail. As far as I’m concerned, I’m very much looking forward to knowing what a non-fiction book dedication is worth in dollar terms.