Fiscal Sociology and the Theory of Public Finance

Fiscal Sociology and the Theory of Public Finance

An Exploratory Essay

New Thinking in Political Economy series

Richard E. Wagner

This book advances a social-theoretic treatment of public finance, which contrasts with the typical treatment of government as an agent of intervention into a market economy. To start, Richard Wagner construes government not as an agent but as a polycentric process of interaction, just as is a market economy. The theory of markets and the theory of public finance are thus construed as complementary components of a broader endeavor of social theorizing, with both seeking to provide insight into the emergence of generally coordinated relationships within society. The author places analytical focus on emergent processes of development rather than on states of equilibrium, and with much of that development set in motion by conflict among people and their plans.

Chapter 1: Contrasting Architectonics for a Theory of Public Finance

Richard E. Wagner

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


1. Contrasting architectonics for a theory of public finance Philosophers of science have occupied the foreground in reminding us that the sense we make of our observations about reality is conditioned by the mental frameworks or maps we use to organize those observations. This is an important point that bears heavily upon the selection of an architectonic framework for a theory of public finance. We are all necessarily captives of the mental maps we employ in making sense of our observations. There is nothing wrong with this, for there is no way to avoid this situation. Those maps can focus our observations on important matters and help us to avoid what is insignificant. They can also keep us from understanding accurately or clearly our chosen object of examination. For millennia people thought that the sun rose in the east and set in the west. This expression arose as part of a mental map that placed the earth at the center of the universe. Astronomers mapped the heavens to reconcile their observations of the heavenly bodies in terms of this Ptolemaic mental map. Then came Copernicus with his alternative mental map where the earth revolved around the sun, and we came subsequently to understand differently our observations of the heavenly bodies. While we still speak of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, we now know that we are speaking figuratively and not literally. In the Preface to his epochal General Theory of Employment, Interest,...

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