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 10: Generality and Minimalist Government

Timothy P. Roth

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


10.1 MAJORITARIAN CYCLING, RENT SEEKING AND THE GROWTH OF GOVERNMENT If, as John Rawls suggests, a constitutional democracy can be arranged so as to satisfy the principle of equal political participation it is also true that, absent a generality constraint, majoritarian democracy is congenial to discriminatory, resource-wasting rent seeking activity. This brute fact comes into focus once the romanticized view of politics is abandoned. While analytically convenient, neither the ‘bifurcated man’ nor the ‘benevolent despot’ has an empirical counterpart. On the one hand, there is no reason to suppose that man is narrowly self-interested in his market behavior, and other-regarding in his political behavior. On the other hand, the notion that ‘government’ can be modeled as a single entity seeking to maximize a supraindividualistic social welfare function denies both the reality of complex political processes and the ontological and other problems associated with the specification of an externally defined public good. Reduced to its essentials, majoritarian cycling and rent seeking are endemic to the conflictual or day-to-day political process. The irremediable fact is that objective features of observable reality facilitate the concentration of benefits and the dispersion of costs which, in turn, underwrite the growth of government. Inter alia, bounded rationality, positive ex ante and ex post monitoring costs and opportunism shape a decision environment in which ‘special interests’ secure the discriminatory in-period and intergenerational transfers which, pari passu, imply an expansion of the size and scope of ‘government’. If the political inefficiency inherent in...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

Elgaronline requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals. Please login through your library system or with your personal username and password on the homepage.

Non-subscribers can freely search the site, view abstracts/ extracts and download selected front matter and introductory chapters for personal use.

Your library may not have purchased all subject areas. If you are authenticated and think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

Further information