James Buchanan once remarked that "Political economists stress the technical economic principles that one must understand in order to assess alternative arrangements for promoting peaceful cooperation and productive specialization among free men. Yet political economists go further and frankly try to bring out into the open the philosophical issues that necessarily underlie all discussions of the appropriate functions of government and all proposed policy measures. They examine philosophical values for consistency among themselves and with the ideal of human freedom."
Echoing his teacher – Frank Knight -- Buchanan argued for the necessity of forthright and continuous discussion in the "honorable tradition of ‘political economy’ – the study of what makes for a ‘good society.’"
“Political economists," he argued, "try to stimulate open and lively discussion of how a free society should be organized and preserved.”
So asking questions about how one can empower the protective and productive state without unleashing the predatory state is a positive analytical project, but of course it does have a normative purpose. It is in this tradition that I would place my own efforts in political economy.