Economists and the State: What Went Wrong.

Author:Congleton, Roger D.
Position:Book review

Economists and the State: What Went Wrong

By Timothy P. Roth

Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 2014.

Pp. xi, 178. $99.99 hardcover.

Timothy Roth has written a long series of short books that criticize modern welfare economics and contemporary policies in the United States. Economists and the State: What Went Wrong extends the series by focusing attention on constitutional issues. It argues that contemporary policy problems in the United States should be considered consequences of a long drift away from principles of classical liberalism that has been aided and abetted by arguments from neoclassical economics. The book's methodology combines intellectual history with contemporary policy analysis. Roth presents himself as a proponent of classical liberalism in the tradition of Smith, Kant, Jefferson, and Madison.

Chapters 1 and 2 provide an overview of arguments made by Smith, Jefferson, and Madison, among many others, concerning ethics, civic virtue, institutional design, and political economy. These chapters use a series of multisentence quotations that give readers a strong sense of these men's ideas. The quotations are very well chosen and provide convincing support for Roth's interpretation of their work and thought processes. Although Roth also stresses Kant's role in the development of these ideas, he provides few quotations from Kant's work. Overall, these chapters do a very nice job of conveying the Western intellectual atmosphere of the late eighteenth century, during which the U.S. constitutional documents were worked out.

Chapter 3 is a short critique of contemporary welfare economics, stressing various problems associated with utilitarianism and neoclassical economics. Chapter 4 begins with a short history of the growth of central-government authority and expenditures in the United States and ends with Roth's argument that this growth occurred because of the unraveling of the Founders' constitution. This unraveling was due in part to a shift in what Roth calls "public philosophy," which includes reduced emphasis on institutional thinking and what James Buchanan and Roger Congleton (Politics by Principle, Not Interest [Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998]) designate the "generality principle." Chapter 5 provides examples of contemporary legislation that violate generality' or Kantian universality. Many were put together in a rather haphazard manner. For example, Roth devotes a great deal of attention to the Troubled...

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