Deficits, Debt, and Democracy
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Deficits, Debt, and Democracy

Wrestling with Tragedy on the Fiscal Commons

Richard E. Wagner

This timely book reveals that the budget deficits and accumulating debts that plague modern democracies reflect a clash between two rationalities of governance: one of private property and one of common property. The clashing of these rationalities at various places in society creates forms of societal tectonics that play out through budgeting. The book demonstrates that while this clash is an inherent feature of democratic political economy, it can nonetheless be limited through embracing once again a constitution of liberty.
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Chapter 5: Parliamentary Assemblies as Peculiar Market Bazaars

Richard E. Wagner


Parliamentary assemblies have particular prominence in democratic regimes. Those assemblies vary in size from town councils with a few members to national assemblies with several hundred members, and they differ in internal organization and operation. Similar to Pantaleoni (1911), and also McCormick and Tollison (1981) and Leibowitz and Tollison (1980), a parliamentary assembly is treated here as cousin to a market bazaar. Like a market bazaar, a parliament is a place of buying and selling, of negotiating and coaxing, and of making deals. In these features it resembles a bazaar or a farmers’ market. But it does so with differences in various institutional arrangements by which it is governed as compared with ordinary bazaars, and so is described as a peculiar instance of a market bazaar. The point of this conceptualization is to support the effort to develop an invisible-hand style in explaining collective activity, rather than the customary planning style of explanation. The desire to pursue this alternative line of explanation resides in turn on recognition that epistemically there is nothing even remotely approaching assembly at one place of all of the knowledge required for governance of the complex network of activities that take place on the public square, which gives especial relevance to Koppl’s (2010) treatment of complexity. On the contrary, that knowledge is distributed among myriad people throughout a society. In this distribution, rather than concentration of relevant knowledge, the public square and the market square are identical. Hence, the public square cannot reasonably be assimilated to...

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