April, 2015

From Big State and Small Society, to Small State and Big Society: Reflections on Richard Cornuelle's Healing America

  • Peter J. Boettke

    Director, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
  • Paola Suarez

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Cornuelle argued that our intellectual culture since the Great Depression has “heard only the case for expanding the scope and size of government,” and that if “rationality is to be restored, the independent sector must compete for social responsibility consciously and aggressively” (1983, 174; 175). Success will require a radical rethinking of “public business” as the role of government in a free society is critically examined. In other words, it is necessary to engage in the negative task of demonstrating that the justificatory arguments for the state are not as airtight as imagined, and thus that the supply and demand for state action actually have their sources elsewhere. This demonstration is what we take as our task in this paper.

In sequence, we discuss the claims for state intervention that derive from our moral sense of justice, the arguments for state intervention based on prisoners’ dilemmas and the need for collective action, and the case for state intervention that follows from the broad claims of market failure. We then argue that even if we have good reasons to reject (or at least seriously question) the justificatory arguments for state intervention based on justice, collective action, or market failure, a high probability of state intervention will persist as suggested by public choice arguments regarding the logic of democratic governance. We thus turn to a discussion of what may be necessary to realize a society of free and responsible individuals who participate and can prosper in a market economy based on profit and loss, and who can live and be actively engaged in caring communities. We conclude by returning to Cornuelle’s Healing America and its implications for twenty-first-century political economy

Find article at Conversations on Philanthropy