How is the role of the state viewed within economic theory at the start of the 21st century? Whilst economics has been developed as a science of the market, it is irrefutable that the state has never been completely out of the picture. We recall that in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, the key role of the “invisible hand” was complemented by numerous interventions (Rothbard, 1995: 463-9). This became possible in the light of what was later considered “market failures”. Of course, some currents (anarchists, radical Austrians) may have conceived of the functioning of the economy without the state, emphasizing cooperation or competition between individual agents, and mainstream economists assume the conditions of their models, particularly those of general equilibrium, in a similar way.
In spite of all this, there has always been a critical interaction between the market and the state in the economic process. However, there is a difference: if the market is clearly privileged in the theoretical analysis, the state’s role is far from negligible in practical terms. Moreover, this asymmetry and the evolving views on the state’s role make the construction of a common framework very difficult and problematic. In the present paper we trace this intertwined and complex relationship since the 18th century which is necessarily outlined in broad terms. Starting from the fact that economics deals with the free market, we will focus in particular on how the state should behave in the light of this basic parameter, and the different perceptions stemming from such an approach. Our main objective is to examine in more detail the changing views on the state’s role
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