As a rule, news is a distraction from worthy intellectual pursuits. But Jason Brennan manages to thoughtfully filter the Ashley Madison hack through the lens of his new Markets without Limits(co-authored with Peter Jaworski):
Most people believe what Ashley Madison did was wrong, because they
profited from immorality. I agree what they did was wrong, but the
problem wasn't that they profited. Peter Jaworski and I have a book on commodification, Markets without Limits,
coming out next month. Our thesis is that any service or good that you
may give away for free, you may sell for money. The only types of goods
and services that are not properly objects of sale are the things you
shouldn't do or have anyways. In our view, most of the objections to
commodifying this or that are really objections to how the thing is sold, not what is sold.
So, for instance, we agree that child pornography and nuclear weapons
ought not be bought and sold, but that's because people ought not have
them in the first place. If people were distributing these goods for
free, it would still be wrong...
Ashley Madison provides a nice illustration of our central thesis... [T]he problem with Ashley Madison is not primarily that it
helps people break promises for profit. It's that it helps people break promises,
period. If Jaworski and I were to set up the Help You Secretly Cheat On
Your Spouse Charitable Foundation, an NGO that matches would-be
paramours, the service would also be wrong. The wrongness here doesn't originate in the market, in the buying and selling of the service. It originates in the activity itself.
In surveying the various books on the limits of markets, we find that
about half of the so-called "contested commodities" or "noxious
markets" that the authors discuss concern cases like Ashley Madison,
where the good or service in question is something people should not
have or do anyways. Sure, if some behaviors are wrongful or some
products bad, then we generally don't want to industrialize providing
them. Still, we need to be clear what the issue is. Markets in bad
things are bad because bad things are bad, not because markets are
introducing badness where there wasn't any.