The Ethics and the Economics of Minimalist Government
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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.
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Timothy P. Roth


The economist’s theory of the state is grounded in consequentialist, procedurally detached and intendedly value-free social welfare theory. Reduced to its essentials, the ‘omniscient economist’ deploys the first and second fundamental welfare theorems in the service of a ‘benevolent despot’. The latter, in turn, is understood to be a ‘bifurcated man’; narrowly self-interested in his market behaviour, but attentive, in his public persona, to a supraindividual ‘public good’ (Chapters 3, 4 and 5). In their relentless pursuit of first-best Pareto-efficient outcomes economists seem to have ignored both an early admonition against ‘piecemeal’ welfare economics (Chapter 5), and a burgeoning literature which questions the empirical content and logical consistency of the neoclassical postulates which underlie their theory. As we shall see, once account is taken of some fundamental features of observable reality, the efficiency frontier and the social welfare function – whose ontological existence was questioned almost five decades ago – are indeterminate (Chapter 6). Granting this, the omniscient economist lacks the analytical tools by which, ‘scientifically’, to inform the policy deliberations of the benevolent despot who, ‘himself’, has no empirical counterpart. Inter alia, this admittedly convenient analytical fiction ignores the complexities of day-to-day, conflictual politics (Chapter 7). It follows that, while they proceed under the imprimatur of ‘positive’ or ‘scientific’ welfare economics, government interventions motivated by the fundamental welfare theorems must be regarded as ad hoc. Stated differently, neither ‘market imperfections’ nor presumed divergences between ‘competitive’ and ‘ethical’ equilibria can justify the implicit assumption that ‘government can...

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