Evaluating exchange backwards

It is not that we should assume that because some exchange is voluntary, it is mutually beneficial, and therefore moral.

To the contrary, our evaluation ought to run in the reverse direction: because some exchange is moral, therefore it is likely to be mutually beneficial. And the reverse holds as well: a coke dealer and an addict are engaged in mutually harmful exchange.


  1. The whole "voluntary" bit still seems like a red herring to me. I see no point in slapping that on to "exchange" or "transaction". I don't really see it as applicable, so when libertarians or other free marketeers pounce on something like, say, using a service being "voluntary" in objection to consumer protection laws, I am unable to see what they are talking about. Let me put it another way: I don't see a difference between taxes in a republic and fees in a corporate republic.

    1. Well Samson, with taxes you have no choice but to suffer the consequences if you don't pay. In Rothbardia you can choose to suffer the consequences if you don't pay. There are whole books explaining this distinction.

  2. Despite partly agreeing with Samson here I disagree with the post. In general it is a good thing to make people better off, and to let them make themselves and others better off.

    "Voluntary" here refers to a past condition: having been chosen by participants with other choices. To the extent that is true, and Samson notes sometimes there aren't other choices, it affords the inference the choice made serves in prospect to benefit the chooser. This is generally true.

    1. " the choice made serves in prospect to benefit the chooser. "

      Sure, *in prospect*. But people are terrible about choosing what is actually good for them!


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