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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Chapter 3: The Consequentialist Approach to Government

Timothy P. Roth

Extract

3. The consequentialist approach to government 3.1 UTILITARIANISM AS A STANDARD FOR JUDGING PUBLIC ACTION We begin by recalling that, whereas contractarians do not start with a concept of the good, given independently of the right, consequentialists start with a view of what is good or valuable and specify that the proper response to those values is to promote them. We recall also that utilitarianism is the theory of the good which is most standardly deployed to fill out the consequentialist framework. Finally, we recognize that utilitarianism – whether in hedonistic, preference or welfare form1 is ‘first and foremost, a standard for judging public action’. By this account, ‘the right action is that which maximizes utility (however construed) summed impersonally across all those affected by that action. … That is…the standard that public policy-makers are to use when making collective choices impinging on the community as a whole’ (Goodin 1993, p. 245). While the hedonistic pleasure–pain calculus advocated by Jeremy Bentham is today rarely, if ever, deployed, the essential point is that Bentham believed that only utilitarian arguments could justify political decisions (Dworkin 1978, p. 233). The same can be said of preference and welfare utilitarians. Whereas the former assert a public policy imperative to promote preference satisfaction, the latter ‘would suppress short-sighted preference satisfaction in favor of protecting people’s long-term welfare interests’ (Goodin 1993, p. 244). In effect, welfare utilitarians embrace the idea that it is possible, inter alia, to determine what people ‘need’, rather than what they ‘want’...

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