Musgrave and the Idea of Community
Welfare Theory, Public Action, and Ethical Values: Revisiting the history of welfare economics, edited by Roger Backhouse, Antoinette Baujard and Tamotsu Nishizawa. Cambridge University Press, Forthcoming, May 2021.
26 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2020
Date Written: October 5, 2020
Richard A. Musgrave (1910-2007) is the architect of modern public finance. Born and educated in Germany before he moved to the United States in 1933, Musgrave was a widely read intellectual who fought throughout his long career attempts to narrow down the scope and the methods of economics. He had always been critical of what we now call welfarism, and more generally of strict methodological individualism. This chapter reviews the history of Musgrave’s connection with the idea of community. Musgrave’s limited opening—often implicit—for the idea of community provides a basis for an alternative conception of welfare. He came to realise the importance of a social or communal frame late in his life and left readers with cursory remarks to ponder upon. Musgrave never fully articulated a coherent vision of what the idea of community belonging might entail for a democratic theory of the government’s budget. Yet, securing an ontological status for societies or communities, besides individuals, allowed him to theorise a larger scope of public interventions than other economic models of the state. It provided a new meaning to his concept of merit wants. This reframing of merit wants as ‘community wants’ is explained by the revival of moral and political philosophy in the 1970s and occasions to revisit older German theories.
Keywords: Richard A. Musgrave, John Rawls, merit goods, merit wants, public goods, methodological individualism, community, communitarianism, public finance, public economics, history of economics
JEL Classification: B29, B30, B41, D60, H10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation