To avoid being excessively tendentious, this post offers an overview and a review of the EE project. What is euvoluntary exchange? Why should we care about it? How do we use its insights to make greater sense of the world?
What is the euvoluntary exchange project? I see its purpose as an attempt to skitter past many of the orthogonality problems ordinary folks have when they discuss oddities in the marketplace. By identifying clear boundaries around a set of trades that pretty much everyone can agree upon, all us frogs can sit on the same lily pad before jumping off into the pond to talk about exploitation or coercion or paternalism or irrationality or what-have-ye. Good discussion, good pedestrian philosophy, good common-sense economics, good armchair political science starts out with everyone on the same footing, using the same clear language with the same clear definitions. The six sidebar conditions fence in some of the wilderness and let us explore the frontier together. This is an important contribution to the exchange of ideas, particularly when cheap information permits the ready formation of insularity.
What is the euvoluntary exchange idea? Folks approach the world with a set of values and a set of beliefs. Values arise from moral warrants and are perhaps less subject to change than beliefs, which reside in the halls of reason and are therefore relatively more prone to argumentation than values. The euvoluntary exchange idea casts a wide net for a set of commonly-held values. Economists, particularly those of a free-market bent, have a peculiar habit of elevating the public role of a relatively small set of moral principles and relegating the remainder to the realm of private activity. Almost any economist will admit that love, admiration, envy, and pride are part of the human experience, but few are as willing to incorporate these considerations into policy prescriptions compared to a typical voter in a democracy. This leads these economist types to sanction (what a funny word, it means its opposite) an uncomfortably large range of trades. The EE idea defines a narrow bit of pasture to what is pretty likely to be trades that don't offend the values of ordinary folks.
What are the euvoluntary exchange conditions? The role of the conditions in the sidebar are to lend a rough and ready guide to common intuitions: trade in stolen goods, the writing of contracts not allowed by common or international merchant law, the sale of hazardous or addictive substances, the use of venal force to fix terms of trade, and most importantly exchange with folks in desperate or highly unequal situations can all, jointly and severally cross ordinary folks' moral boundaries. The six conditions of euvoluntary exchange wrap crime scene tape around the investigation scene. I see the purpose of this blog as a team of detectives examining the evidence. We're the Hardly Boys and we just want to ask you a few questions.
When I started thinking of things in terms of euvoluntary exchange, it helped ease a sense of frustration. I didn't understand why decades of cruel and unusual public policy saw otherwise innocent marijuana users chucked in penitentiaries with violent criminals to placate the peccadilloes of paternalists. Now that I have an EE toolkit, I still think America's drug policy is wrong, but I'm better able to engage the moral reasoning that underpins the policy and adjust my arguments accordingly. It's my hope that folks who might disagree with me on other topics might do the same: start from an EE position, see where violations happen, then reason from there. This approach makes it easier to spot differences in values as well as analytical blind spots. We still may disagree on issues, but at least we'll stop talking past each other.
Or that's the hope anyway.