Published online: 5 March 2009
Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009
As I write these comments, the world is in the grips of a financial crisis, possibly the
greatest such global crisis of its kind. This has created issues for both markets and
government. Faith in markets has been shaken to the core by the difficulties in finan-
cial institutions. But it is a challenge to government too. The public are turning to their
governments to deal with these issues and whether the responses are ultimately
deemed successful will affect the perception of government as an actor in the economy
for a generation or more.
Thinking through these issues is a challenge for any student of political economy.
When I wrote Principled Agents (PA hereafter), I was hoping that some of the tools
laid out there might be helpful in thinking about when government works and when it
does not. The policy challenges are to identify the optimal policies and then to find
ways on delivering on them. We are all standing on the shoulders of previous
generations of thinkers who have worried about these questions. I have always felt a
debt in particular to the early Public Choice literature which tabled the central challenge
of creating an understanding of government failure to parallel our understanding of
market failure. Only once that project is complete can we begin to understand the role
of states and markets.
I am immensely grateful to all the commentators in this issue for their constructive
comments and criticisms of the project in PA. It is flattering enough that they felt it
worthwhile to engage with the project at all and even more rewarding that they have
offered advice to me about where I went wrong (and sometimes where I succeeded).
Soon after I finished the book, I joked with anyone who asked after it that the most
significant fact about the book as far as I was concerned was that I was no longer
working on it. But with the passage of time, I have come to think that I should perhaps
return to it and think about ways of improving it. Were I about to embark on a new
edition, I would definitely have lots of ideas to take on board from this issue.
Rev Austrian Econ (2009) 22:177–180
T. Besley (*)
London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK