I raised some issues yesterday about the claims on the productivity of government activites. These were raised as questions and not criticisms to stimulate thought among readers and in the hope of encouraging a dialogue on the role of the state in economic activity and our conception of the state in a free society.
In the interest of full disclosure and though I don't write from a natural rights perspective, the image I have of the state is to the left. In my youth I was persuaded by rights-based arguments in the libertarian tradition, but I quickly moved to a more utilitarian based economic theory grounded argument --- what is often termed rule utilitarianism as found in Mises and Hayek. But I cannot shake the image of the state that I have had since my initial conversion to libertarianism in my late teens.
Rothbard was the most influential thinker on me then and his words still inspire much of my political philosophy to this day. My favorite work of Rothbard's is For a New Liberty, but I also think that "The Anatomy of the State" is perhaps his finest essay in political theory. The painting from Goya was the cover of the Libertarian Alliance pamphlet and was meant to caputre the essence of the state. As Schumpeter argued, we must have a pre-analytical cognitive moment of visiion from which we draw the raw material for our analysis. For me that vision with regard to the state has been since my undergraduate days fundamentally Rothbardian. I cannot help it, but other visions of the state always appear to me as overly romantic. Politics without romance, to me, must begin with the recognition that the state is an instrument of coercive exploitation --- organized predation if you will --- and can be and will be used by some to exploit others. Consensual politics, in others words, does not really make sense. It is all about predation all the way down, even though I will admit that some states are more predatory than others.
Enough political confessions of basic vision, the real question is whether that vision gives us enough raw material to work with in political economy so that progress can be made in getting at the underlying mechanisms in operation in this world (or a possible world) that once we explicate them we will understand the world better (or the workability of the possible world better).