Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I closed yesterday's post with an off-hand mention of "super-euvoluntarity" and I'm not sure I adequately explained what I mean by that. Let me try to be a little more clear. Recall that euvoluntary exchange is characterized first by a voluntary exchange. If that exchange is lawfully and fairly made by free, equal agents in compos mentis, as long as neither person regrets the trade, it can be said to be euvoluntary.

Attentive readers will notice thematic differences between the GTM's and my chief areas of interest. Munger concentrates more on the morality of BATNA disparities, and I find the regret condition more interesting. In the Mungerian paradigm, failure to exchange will often be because of paternalistic meddling by third parties: Smith and Jones want to swap corn for fencing, but Darvis sees that Jones is wealthy and Smith lives in a sty with his pigs, so he moves to block the trade on the grounds of exploitation. Compare this to my point of view, where voluntary trades are likely to blocked on soft paternalistic grounds: Smith and Jones want to trade corn for fencing, but Darvis knows that Smith will turn that corn into whiskey and drink himself into missing a mortgage payment on his tastefully appointed pigsty, so he moves himself to intervene on the grounds that he'll absolve Smith of his perfectly predictable claims of regret.

The moral intuitions underpinning interventions based on BATNA disparity are slightly different than those based on regret aversion by proxy. These intuitions can be cast in sharper relief when we look at compelled trades, mandatory exchange. Munger argued in his Otto "Toby" Davis lecture that there may be a moral obligation to engage in trade with disadvantaged folks, but there are a few cases where legislators recognize that failure to trade is completely unacceptable. The most obvious example is automobile insurance. Medical coverage is becoming more compulsory in the United States, and primary education has been mandatory for quite some time. I'd be willing to consider transactions like these to be (potentially) super-euvoluntary, which simply means that failure to exchange violates one or more of the conditions for euvoluntarity.

Mind you, I'm not making any claims for the existence or even the desirability of any policy positions here. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I think there's a plausible argument that gun ownership could be considered super-euvoluntary, since armed citizens are a last line of defense against tyranny. This does not imply that all citizens must therefore own guns. Similarly, given the institutional structure of medical service delivery, failure to purchase coverage may (perhaps) violate the regret condition, but it does not necessarily follow that all citizens must therefore buy medical coverage.

The questions I've been mulling since I absent-mindedly jotted down the term "super-euvoluntary" are:

  1. How can we recognize when a trade is super-euvoluntary?
  2. Does super-euvoluntarity imply some sort of intervention?
  3. Is there collective super-euvoluntarity?
  4. Is there meta-super-euvoluntarity?
I'll think on this a little more and follow up if I come up with anything interesting. In the meantime, please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?