Exploring the Social Life of Markets
TWCF Number
Project Duration
December 15 / 2021
- December 14 / 2023
Core Funding Area
Individual Freedom and Free Markets
North America
Amount Awarded

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Virgil Storr
Institution Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Economist and philosopher Adam Smith, also known as ''The Father of Economics," has celebrated the potential of markets to deliver material wealth. As Smith explained, the more extensive the market in a country, the more developed its division of labor will be, the more productive and wealthy its citizens will be. Smith, however, was less optimistic about the relationship between markets and community. Although Smith acknowledged the possibility of workplace friendships, he argued that the division of labor within markets was potentially alienating and that the advance of commercial society might erode familial relationships.

Concerns about the social consequences of markets have been echoed and amplified by contemporary critics who warn that markets and community are necessarily hostile spheres.

The project will consider the following questions:

  1. Can markets act as social spaces where meaningful social bonds are developed and supported?
  2. If commercial friendships develop in markets, how do markets foster their development?
  3. How do commercial friendships compare to friendships that develop in other settings? Are commercial friendships as trusting, intimate, and connected as friendships that develop elsewhere?
  4. Is there a social cost alongside the well-understood economic cost of limiting markets?

Utilizing various empirical techniques, including fieldwork, surveys, and laboratory experiments, this project, led by Virgil Henry Storr, at George Mason University's Mercatus Center will explore the social life of markets.

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