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 7: The Contractarian Approach to Government

Timothy P. Roth


7.1 THE PRIOR MORAL COMMITMENT: A REPRISE As we have seen, the contractarian enterprise has developed along two conceptual loci. For reasons discussed in Section 1.4, it is the Kantian/ Rawlsian variant which informs the balance of this book. Inter alia, this involves a prior commitment to the moral equivalence of persons (§ 1.2) and to the moral law or categorical imperative (CI) (§ 1.3). While the CI may be expressed in a number of ways, the Formula of the End in Itself demands that the autonomy, agency, independence, self-determination and dignity of morally equivalent persons be respected. On this account, it is not persons’ ‘utility’ or ‘happiness’ that is morally exigent. Rather, the imperative is to accord all persons impartial consideration. It follows, pari passu, that whereas consequentialist social welfare theory regards the maximization of aggregative utility as the ultimate desideratum or ‘public good’, the CI is procedural or contractarian. The demand for equal consideration requires both that rights be given lexical priority, and that just – in the sense of impartial – institutions be promoted. Thus, whereas consequentialist social welfare theory can accommodate neither the moral force of rights (§ 2.1) nor an explicit theory of justice (§ 2.23), the Kantian/ Rawlsian project regards rights as morally exigent, and defines justice as impartiality (§ 2.22). 7.2 THE INDETERMINACY OF ‘ENDS’ Given its procedural orientation the Kantian/Rawlsian (hereafter contractarian) enterprise does not regard ‘outcomes’ as the subject of normative appraisal. If nothing else were said, the indeterminacy of consequentialist or outcomesbased social welfare theory (Chapter...

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