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Exchanging entailments: The contested meaning of commodity exchange

Philip M Kozel, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Many economists have heralded markets as institutions promoting individual freedom, liberty and expanding wealth while others have condemned them for generating avarice, economic inequality and crises. Exchanging Entailments critically evaluates how prominent economic theorists link these various associations, called here entailments, to the exchange process and the theoretical and policy implications which result. In contrast, Exchanging Entailments argues that what commodity exchange entails always depends upon the broader constellation of social relations and beliefs situating it within any particular context. Aristotle pioneered such an insight by arguing exchange may positively or negatively impact society depending upon the beliefs and norms motivating the buying and selling of commodities. Adam Smith famously linked exchange motivated by individual gain with liberty, freedom and expanding wealth but also produced a knowledge of what ‘constrained’ exchange entails which constitute rhetorical motifs resonating within much of economic discourse today. Marx challenged the representation of Smith's understanding of exchange popular as ‘one-sided’ and provided an immanent critique, demonstrating that the very rationale behind linking freedom, liberty and economic expansion to exchange also implies unfreedom, dependence, and economic crisis. Such a dialectic haunts commodity exchange within any social context, providing fodder for the celebrants and critics of markets alike. Besides exploring the significance of exchange within ‘traditional’ liberal bounds, Marx also articulated various class processes behind the production of commodities and merchant capital to exchange, reformulating its meaning in the process. Exchanging Entailments concludes with an exploration into the role ascribed to commodity exchange within the globalization debates today and maintains that the rhetoric Smith developed surrounding exchange play no some role in the debate. Many pro-globalization theorists, while employing a very different theory, still echo Smith's associations of trade with wealth and harmony. Many critics of the international economic environment also rely upon his exchange entailments as well, albeit unwittingly, with they associate the ills of today with restricted exchange and/or favoritism in trade agreements. To challenge the constrained terrain upon which the globalization debate takes place, a crucial need exists today to challenge the rhetoric behind what exchange supposedly entails for society.

Subject Area

Economic theory|Economics

Recommended Citation

Kozel, Philip M, "Exchanging entailments: The contested meaning of commodity exchange" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3152718.