- New Thinking in Political Economy series
Edited by Edward Stringham
Chapter 18: Anarchism as a Progressive Research Program in Political Economy
* Peter J. Boettke Economic theory, since its first systemic treatment in Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, has clearly stressed the mutual benefits of voluntary trade. By specializing in production and offering the goods and services for exchange with others, both individuals and society will be made better off. The source of wealth is not the natural resources that lie in the land, or the conquests of foreign lands, but an expanding division of labor driven by voluntary exchange. Smith had established a presumption toward voluntarism in human interaction on consequentialist grounds. Individual liberty was not only right from a moral perspective, but would yield greater social benefits as well. However, from the beginning of economics it was argued that these benefits of voluntary exchange could only be realized if the presumption toward voluntarism was suspended in order to create the governmental institutions required to provide the framework within which voluntary exchange can be realized.1 Precisely how much the presumption toward voluntarism would need to be suspended in order to provide the framework for voluntary exchange has been one of the most contested issues in economics since the late nineteenth century. The theory of public goods, monopoly and market failure all contributed to expanding the acceptance of coercion and qualifying the presumption toward voluntarism among mainstream economists. It is important to remember that each of these arguments for qualifying the presumption have been met with counter-arguments by economists that have demonstrated that...
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