Common goods against the patron state

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  • Assigning the state a #monopoly is like saying the #Baron is the state, and subsequently forever master

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  • We reason that men are men, so we should #government officials be any better?

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  • The state should not claim powers that belong to lower-order institutions

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Mr. Francesco Cundari's article on "L'Unità" (August 12, 2011), entitled "Common goods forgotten," is a rare example of a legitimate defeat for the left. The author finds that the words of the Italian Minister of Economy Giulio Tremonti on the need to privatize local public services are perhaps the point at which the consensus among political forces is wider. Mr. Cundari wonders what happened to that "new wind" blowing in the country (Italy) and has led to the "resounding victory" in the June 12-13 referendum?) What happened to so radically change not only the political views, "but also the wind, the climate, the orientation of the entire political debate?" The questions are very interesting and they may open a debate on the left that frankly does not concern us.

We were struck by the repetition of the famous equation: state = common good, as if the "State" (Mr. Cundari uses capital letter) was antecedent to individuals, families and intermediary communities. From Cundari's perspective, it seems that the "state" possesses, for reasons almost mystical, attributes of "charity" and "justice". Rather, individuals and associations come before to the state (we write it with a lower case letter). It follows that the "commons" are the tangible and intangible conditions that allow each person to pursue their own notion of happiness, freedom and wellbeing, without undermining the notion of others, and where individuals cooperate in a pluralistic and subsidiary environment to establish polyarchycal order, where the first social virtue is to create associations for the good of each and every one.

"Ultimately, on the basis of Sturzo's teaching, while I do not trust the private, I am terrified by the idea that the public can be at the same time referee and player." -- Flavio Felice

As we wrote in another article on "Avvenire" (June 9 2011), to assign to the "State" a monopoly in public service is a subsidence to feudal, baron and servile logic. The Baron is then merely called "State", is forever "master." Despite the fact that we keep the right to vote, it doesn't enfranchise us from the miserable condition of "subjects".

If the basis of our reasoning is the belief that men are men, then why should we consider government officials are virtuous by nature? Does public service managed by the state means that management will directed by party leaders? If so, who said that political parties know better than others what the social optimum is? Perhaps the social optimum is a "State's" attribute? Or it is an attribute of polyarchycal civil society, organized according to the principle of subsidiarity?

The perspective that we want to express is that outlined by the tradition of Catholicism inspired by classical liberal tradition, a political culture signed by the Sturzo's matrix and that of social market economy, which recognizes to the state the task of establishing and enforcing rules, with democratic and participatory approach: to define the playing field, to open lines of competition, to prevent oligopolies, to work as the referee, to punish those who break the rules and, if so, to eject it from the field.

Because we have to do with "common goods", we need a strict and impartial arbiter, and even children know that the referee cannot also be the player. Ultimately, on the basis of Sturzo's teaching, while I do not trust the private, I am terrified by the idea that the public can be at the same time referee and player.

Against the baronial feudal-statist paradigm, we propose the liberal principles of subsidiarity and polyarchy, which economical character is summarized in the statement that the state should not claim for itself the powers of fields that belong to the lower-order institutions. If anything, the state has to ensure that these levels adequately fulfill their duties, and it should intervene only in case they do not do it, first to support them, and only later, when they failed to respond to the needs, to replace them.

In conclusion, we do not believe that has changed the "wind". For many years now, even among economists and jurists of reference of the Italian left, the false equation "common goods = state" appeared to be overcome, as well as the superficial view that the liberalization management of the service automatically results in the loss of the "public" nature of these assets (for example, water!). Actually, we were impressed with how the liberal "wind" that for years had begun to blow on the Italian rive gauche was so faint as to be imperceptible on June 12 and 13.

Flavio Felice is an adjunct scholar at AEI.

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