Do we gain from exchange at all ? On the lessons to be drawn from Rousseau

Abstract : Rousseau was a refined analyst of the intricate relationships between envy feelings and self-esteem (or self-love), inequality, and exchange opportunities. We try to show that Rousseau's writings are a good starting point indeed for the discussion and assessment of an important and controversial thesis, namely, the thesis according to which individuals stand to lose from the deepening of unconstrained free exchange, in some cases at least. Rousseau's analyses, with their distinctive reliance on the dynamics of self-love and complex envy phenomena, as well as the investigation of the properties of commercial relationships, offer insights about the reasons why more exchange possibilities are not always conducive to more well-being in society as it is. These reasons, we argue, are partly to be found in the features of exchange processes, and partly in the influence exerted by exchange on individual preferences themselves. In some of Rousseau's key writings, procedural features appear to play a role in the evaluation of exchange as a social practice. We argue that Rousseau's analyses truly bring into light an intriguing phenomenon, namely, the possible decrease in individual well-being through enhanced exchange opportunities. Rousseau developed a highly critical view of ordinary, market-based monetary exchanges. In these critical developments, some of the problems he discusses could well have permanent significance. A possible implication of reading Rousseau with this problematic in mind is that we should not hold the opening up of new exchange opportunities as a systematic cure for inefficiency in the enjoyment of goods. Additional exchange opportunities might well result in diminished welfare, due to specific problems which are rooted in the exchange process itself. In the process of assessing the relevance of this possibility, Rousseau's classical arguments might provide some help.
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Communication dans un congrès
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Contributeur : Caroline Guibet Lafaye <>
Soumis le : samedi 16 mai 2009 - 15:40:51
Dernière modification le : jeudi 11 juillet 2019 - 11:01:46
Archivage à long terme le : jeudi 10 juin 2010 - 20:29:52


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  • HAL Id : hal-00384881, version 1


Caroline Guibet Lafaye, Emmanuel Picavet. Do we gain from exchange at all ? On the lessons to be drawn from Rousseau. 11ème Conférence Annuelle de la Société Européenne pour l'Histoire de la pensée économique (ESHET): « La justice dans la pensée économique », Jul 2007, Strasbourg, France. ⟨hal-00384881⟩



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