Fiscal Sociology and the Theory of Public Finance
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Fiscal Sociology and the Theory of Public Finance

An Exploratory Essay

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.
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Chapter 3: State and Market: A Two-Forum Societal Architecture

Richard E. Wagner


Chapter 2 located the phenomena of interest to a theory of public finance as stemming from the bivalent character of human nature, wherein people seek both autonomy and community. Both fiscal and market phenomena derive from the same source: the efforts of economizing individuals to pursue plans so as to attain more highly desired states of being. That pursuit, however, is undertaken by social and not solipsistic creatures. Market and state are both emergent phenomena that spring from human effort to pursue plans within a setting of societal interaction. Desires for autonomy within a society map into the forms of interpersonal relationship that are constituted through what we designate as private property. Desires for community, however, limit the range of autonomy and private property by generating patterns of interpersonal relationship we designate as collective property. Private property pertains to actions that people undertake because they choose to, and about which the remainder of society forbears from contesting. The remaining residuum of human action is governed by collective property. To be sure and as already noted in Chapter 2, a desire for community need not map exclusively into the pattern of conduct denoted by state, as a variety of civic associations also emerge out of that desire. It would be possible to consider a triangular social architecture, where the third pole would denote collective activity that is organized within the precincts of civic association. I have avoided doing this here because my object of interest is the theory of...

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