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What's Morally Special about Free Exchange?*

  • Allan Gibbard (a1)

Is there anything morally special about free exchange? In asking this, I am asking not only about extreme, so-called “libertarian” views, on which free exchange is sacrosanct, but about more widespread, moderate views, on which there is at least something morally special about free exchange. On these more compromising views, other moral considerations may override the moral importance of free exchange, but even when rights of free exchange are restricted for good reason, something morally important is lost. For some, free exchange may preserve liberty, in some morally significant sense, or realize some such moral value as “to each his own.” Alternatively, a system of free exchange may have a special moral status by virtue of the kinds of pragmatic arguments that economists give, arguments that free exchange produces good social results. Whether free exchange has any such virtues as these is the broad question I address in this paper. I offer what I have to say somewhat in the spirit of an overview. Philosophical scrutiny and economic analysis combine, it seems to me, to delineate fairly clearly what is, and what is not, morally special about free exchange.

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Allan Gibbard , “Natural Property Rights,” Nous, vol. 10 (1976), pp. 7786.

Allan Gibbard , “Health Care and the Prospective Pareto Principle,” Ethics, vol. 94 (1984), pp. 261282.

Allan Gibbard , “Social Decision, Strategic Behavior, and Best Outcomes,” H. Gottinger and W. Leinfellner , eds., Decision Theory and Social Ethics (Boston: Reidel, 1978), pp. 153168

Theodore Groves and John Ledyard , “ Some Limitations of Demand Revealing Processes,” Public Choice, vol. 29 (1977), pp. 107124.

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Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
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