Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Ratio Working Papers,
The Ratio Institute

No 31: The People’s Romance: Why People Love Government (as much as they do)

Daniel Klein ()
Additional contact information
Daniel Klein: Department of Economics, Postal: Santa Clara University, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95053, USA, and, The Ratio Institute, P.O. Box 5095, SE-102 42 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: Using Schelling’s analysis of mutual coordination and focal points, I interpret Smithian sympathy as sentiment coordination. When the yearning for sentiment coordination seeks, further, for it to encompass the whole social group and looks naturally to government for the focal points, we have The People’s Romance. This yearning for encompassing sentiment coordination asserts itself by denying individual self-ownership. Government activism and coercion become romantic ends in themselves. The People’s Romance is evident in the writings of communists, social democrats, and others who champion the achieving of a “common understanding,” “common endeavor,” or “shared experience.” The People’s Romance helps to explain a wide variety of political and cultural puzzles. I explore whether The People’s Romance can be compatible with classical liberal goals and values, and conclude in the negative.

Keywords: Sentiments; coordination; collectivism; statism; coercion; liberty

JEL-codes: Z00

46 pages, First version: February 9, 2004. Revised: May 11, 2005.

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