Social problems: implications for Virginia political economy

Originally published in The Review of Austrian Economics

This paper aims to advance an interpretation of social problems theory and analysis from the perspective of Virginia political economy. To the extent that social problems provide a rationale for collective action and public policymaking, social problems are considered a suitable candidate for appraisal using Virginia political economy’s conceptual and analytical constructs. A bimodal framework of social problem articulation and selection is presented, integrating the insights of political economist Richard Wagner with recent contributions in evolutionary economics. Social problems are initially articulated through a generative space of issues which are then diffused publicly by various issue-campaigners. This space of origination and diffusion is coupled with a selection space through which individual campaigners, together with interest group associations, lobby key political actors to adopt their social problem and instigate ameliorating policy responses. The paper draws lessons from critiques of public intervention to highlight problems surrounding the politicization of social problems, especially how policies may prolong and multiply the incidence and severity of social problems. This paper finally illustrates the potential value of the bimodal social problems framework for future research.

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