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 2: Property, State and Public Finance

Richard E. Wagner

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


2. Property, state and public finance A creature of high intelligence who could not communicate with us humans and who had recourse only to direct observation would surely conclude that we are like social insects or mammals. We live in groups and form organized patterns of activity, as the literature on social biology illustrates (Tullock 1994; Wilson 1971, 1975). We specialize across activities through a division of labor just as do the social insects and mammals. Termites build skyscrapers just as we do; indeed, they build taller skyscrapers relative to their height than we do. In social biology, specialization and the division of labor are explained as genetically programmed. Worker ants do what they do because their biology compels them, as do queens; worker ants don’t aspire to become queens.1 The very nature of ants and termites allows them to participate within their colonies without questioning their participation or their roles. While genetics is important also to the organization of human activity, language and property are unique components of organized human activity. We are social creatures that need each other, but our ability to enter into cooperative association resides to a large degree in language and the propertybased relationships and institutions we generate. Our social nature requires property-governed relationships to accommodate peaceful and productive human interaction within society. Property, after all, connotes propriety or properness in human conduct. The Marxist ideal was that of human society organized as if it were a colony of ants or termites, at least once...

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