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 8: The Rules of the Political Game

Timothy P. Roth


8.1 ECONOMIC VS. POLITICAL EFFICIENCY The efficiency concept which has been repeatedly invoked, Pareto optimality, is distinguished from productive efficiency, the ‘output maximizing’ property imputed to the neoclassical flow–flow production function (§ 4.2). Both of these efficiency construals may be distinguished from ‘political’ efficiency. The latter is understood to ‘describe the efficacy of differing institutions in reducing or eliminating the incentives for participants to invest resources in rent seeking aimed to secure discriminatory advantage through majoritarian exploitation’ (Buchanan and Congleton 1998, p. 40). The balance of this book is informed by the notion that the ‘basic principle of collective political order, that of equal treatment’ (Buchanan [1975] 2000, p. 51) is both consistent with the moral equivalence of persons (§ 1.2) and politically efficient (§ 7.4). The presumption is, then, that a constitutionally embedded generality or impartiality constraint militates against the resource-wasting rent seeking activity which characterizes conflictual or postconstitutional politics. While some might argue that political efficiency may be gained at the expense of Paretian optimality or efficiency, the logic of Chapter 6 suggests that the latter is, in fact, an indeterminate standard. Yet, even if it were supposed that first-best Paretian optimality can meaningfully be deployed as a standard of normative appraisal, we have seen that there can be no presumption that, in the presence of ‘market failure’, the ‘government can do better’ (§ 5.2). Moreover, as has been repeatedly emphasized, the logic of social welfare theory can be deployed to rationalize...

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