The Ethics and the Economics of Minimalist Government

The Ethics and the Economics of Minimalist Government

Timothy P. Roth

Because it is technically flawed and morally bankrupt, the author argues, the economist’s consequence-based, procedurally detached theory of the state has contributed to the growth of government. As part of the Kantian–Rawlsian contractarian project, this book seeks to return economics to its foundations in moral philosophy. Given the moral equivalence of persons, the greatest possible equal participation must be promoted, persons must be impartially treated and, because it is grounded in consequentialist social welfare theory (SWT), the economist’s theory of the state must be rejected. Ad hoc deployment of SWT has facilitated discriminatory rent seeking and contributed to larger government. In contrast, this book argues that equal political participation and a constitutional impartiality constraint minimize rent seeking, respect individual perceptions of the ‘public good’ and underwrite the legitimacy of government. Economists, moral philosophers and political scientists will find this book a unique contribution to the literature.

Chapter 9: Playing by the Generality Rule

Timothy P. Roth

Subjects: economics and finance, public choice theory, public sector economics, politics and public policy, public choice


9.1 SOME PRELIMINARIES This chapter deploys the Kantian/Rawlsian contractarian idea of the moral equivalence of persons in the normative appraisal of conflictual or day-to-day politics. The enterprise is informed, without further justificatory argument, by the following ideas: First, the moral equivalence of persons implies an institutional imperative. The essential ideas are that the agency, independence, self-determination and dignity of the individual demands that rights be accorded lexical priority, and that just in the sense of impartial institutions be promoted. Inter alia, this means that persons must be accorded the greatest possible equal liberty under and by constitutional and statutory law, and that the constitution – the rules of the game of post-constitutional or conflictual politics – embody a generality or impartiality constraint. Second, the argument takes as given that democratic politics is associated with majority rule, and that majoritarian cycling and resource-wasting rent seeking are defining characteristics of observable reality. Third, given the indeterminacy of the efficiency frontier and the logical, empirical and ontological problems associated with the social welfare function I reject a priori any rationale for ‘government intervention’ motivated by the first and second fundamental welfare theorems. While the analysis is animated, in part, by the Buchanan–Congleton (1998) emphasis on political efficiency, there are substantive differences. First, whereas Buchanan and Congleton emphasize that the political efficiency gains associated with a constitutionally-embedded generality constraint would likely exceed any allocative efficiency losses, I regard the Paretian efficiency standard as indeterminate. Granting this,...

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