Voluntary exchange is the act of buyers and sellers freely and willingly engaging in market transactions. Moreover, transactions are made in such a way that both the buyer and the seller are better off after the exchange than before it occurred.
Voluntary exchange is also a fundamental assumption made by neoclassical economics which forms the basis of contemporary mainstream economics. That is, when neoclassical economists theorize about the world, they assume voluntary exchange is taking place. Building on this assumption, neoclassical economics goes on to conclude a variety of important results such as that market activity is efficient, that free trade has net positive effects and that markets in which economic agents participate voluntarily make them better off. Notably, neoclassical economists—having made the assumption of voluntary exchange—deny the Marxist definition of the exploitation of labour as a possibility within neoclassically-defined capitalism. Marxian economics, one of the major alternatives to neoclassical economics, contends that the exploitation of labor is both possible and a definitional condition of the capitalist mode of production, among other modes of production.
Mainstream economists have shown that voluntary exchanges are more conducive to economic efficiency than exchanges mandated by governments. On the other hand, there is no theoretical basis for arguing that partially or completely involuntary exchange is preferable to other arrangements such as government mandates. Voluntary exchange is sometimes at the root of arguments about the morality of markets. Market proponents often invoke the morality as well as the efficiency of voluntary exchange to argue against government mandates, including many forms of taxation. The morality of markets, even those rarely adhering to true voluntary exchange, are nonetheless in dispute.
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- "Public Economics, Market Failure, and Voluntary Exchange". Research Papers Series. 15 November 2013. SSRN 2355437.
- "The Morality of Market Behavior". Openmarket.org. 20 September 2013. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
- World Archipelago. "What Money Can't Buy". Macmillan. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
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