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date: 04 June 2020

(p. ix) Preface

(p. ix) Preface

The Oxford Handbook of Public Choice provides a comprehensive overview of the research produced by several hundred scholars from economics, political science, law, and sociology over the past seven decades. The individual chapters include analytical surveys, syntheses, and general overviews of the many subfields of public choice that emerged as especially interesting or as important issues were analyzed. Each chapter is written by an expert or experts in the subfields covered, most of whom, although not all, are long-time members of the U.S. or European Public Choice Societies.

The term public choice was adopted in the late 1960s to describe the research program that uses rational choice models to analyze the policy choices of governments. It is sometimes argued that public choice is simply the application of economic principles to politics, but this is not really what produced the public choice literature. Public-choice scholars did use rational-choice models similar to those applied by economists and game theorists, but the public-choice research program required new models, new data sources, and in some cases new methods of estimation and testing. By reconnecting the fields of political science and economics, public choice reconnected the methodologies of political science and economics, which had become separate in the late nineteenth century.

The models developed shed new light on many of the fundamental processes of democratic politics and institutions. Public-choice research, for example, explained why more or less center-of-the-road policies tend to emerge in democracies, rather than the watchman or socialist policies advocated by many intellectuals. It explained why policies that favor a subset of industrial interests are often adopted that run counter to moderate-voter interests. It also shed new light on how institutions, as “rules of the game,” affect politics, policies, and economic development. This, in turn, re-energized the analysis of the institutions of governance in both democracies and autocracies.

Insofar as politics could be characterized with ideas and modes of analysis familiar to economists, it was possible to develop new models of policy formation that took account of political and economic interdependencies. The cumulative research transformed the fields of public finance, industrial organization, and macroeconomics. Public policies became endogenous products of politics in rigorous political-economy models and the new models were subjected to extensive statistical tests. Constitutional rules, in turn, tended to affect policy decisions through a variety of effects on voters, political parties, interest groups, and thereby on public policies. Public choice research thus had significant impacts on both economics and political science.

(p. x) The second volume of the handbook focuses on research on the nature and effects of constitutions, applications of public-choice models to explain major public policies, and methodological issues associated with the public-choice research program. These areas of research draw heavily from the models and ideas covered in the first volume, which focuses on elections, interest groups, and normative analysis.

Part V: Constitutional Political Economy. Buchanan and Tullock (1962) demonstrated that rational-choice models could improve our understanding of voting rules, divided government, federalism, and elections. Subsequent work examined the effects of what might be called the microstructures of politics using rational-choice models (Riker 1962; Shepsle and Weingast 1981). As national and international databases were assembled and digitized, the general policy implications of alternative electoral rules and constraints on public policy and economic development were subject to various statistical tests. Especially influential articles include Grier and Tullock (1989), Congleton (1992), and Persson and Tabellini (1999). Their insights and results, together with the wave of new constitutions adopted during the 1990s, encouraged further efforts to model and measure the effects of institutions on public policies and also the evolution of political and legal institutions. The past three decades have witnessed an explosion of theoretical, empirical, and experimental work on these and related issues, a large subset of which was undertaken by public-choice scholars.

Part VI: Applications, Extensions, and Methodological Issues. The theoretical analysis of the interactions between politics and economics developed by the literatures on elections, interest groups, and constitutions would be of little interest without empirical support. Both statistical and experimental public-choice studies have been employed to understand where the models “work” and where they do not, or do so less well than expected. The empirical strand of public-choice research has deepened our understanding of taxation, redistributive policies, central bank policies, environmental regulation, and economic development. Models and ideas from public-choice research have also been used to shed life on political history and drawn attention to otherwise obscure insights of past scholars.

As the public-choice models and statistical tests of those models became more sophisticated, a variety of issues about how to measure or characterize voter preferences regarding policies emerged. How narrow are a typical voter or politician’s interests, and how forward-looking and detailed is his or her typical analysis of the consequences of public policies? How well informed are voters about public policy and to what extent do democratic processes tend to generate more informed decisions than a single voter can? To what extent do voters act in a narrowly self-interested manner as opposed to voting expressively or idealistically? Theoretical, statistical, and experimental methods have been applied to shed light on these issues and also to determine how robust the analyses are. Human behavior is, after all, widely believed to be less than fully rational in the sense assumed in most public-choice models. In general, public choice models work far better than skeptics expected, although not perfectly.

Overall, as sketched here and demonstrated at length in this two-volume handbook, seven decades of public-choice research has shed light on a wide variety of (p. xi) economic, political, and constitutional issues and puzzles. Both experts and amateur “public choicers” will find the chapters in this book to be well worth their time. Indeed, many of the chapters will simultaneously amaze and amuse readers with both the accomplishments of this research program and the insights of individual contributors.

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Becker, G. S. 1985. “Public Policies, Pressure Groups, and Dead Weight Costs.” Journal of Public Economics 28(3): 329–347.Find this resource:

Black, D. 1948. “On the Rationale of Group Decision-Making.” Journal of Political Economy 56(1): 23–34.Find this resource:

Buchanan, J. M. 1949. “The Pure Theory of Government Finance: A Suggested Approach. Journal of Political Economy 57(6): 496–505.Find this resource:

Buchanan, J. M. 1954. “Social Choice, Democracy, and Free Markets.” Journal of Political Economy 62(2): 114–123.Find this resource:

Buchanan, J. M., and G. Tullock. 1962. The Calculus of Consent. Vol. 3. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Find this resource:

Buchanan, J. M. 1975. The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan. No. 714. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

Buchanan, J. M., R. D. Tollison, and G. Tullock. 1980. Toward a Theory of the Rent-Seeking Society. No. 4. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.Find this resource:

Congleton, R. D. 1992. “Political Institutions and Pollution Control.” Review of Economics and Statistics, 74 (3): 412–421.Find this resource:

Downs, A. (1957). “An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy.” Journal of Political Economy, 65(2), 135–150.Find this resource:

Grier, K. B., and G. Tullock. 1989. “An Empirical Analysis of Cross-National Economic Growth, 1951–1980.” Journal of Monetary Economics 24(2): 259–276.Find this resource:

Hinich, M. J. 1977. “Equilibrium in Spatial Voting: The Median Voter Result Is an Artifact.” Journal of Economic Theory 16(2): 208–219.Find this resource:

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McKelvey, R. D. 1976. “Intransitivities in Multidimensional Voting Models and Some Implications for Agenda Control.” Journal of Economic Theory 12(3): 472–482.Find this resource:

Olson, M. 1965/2009. The Logic of Collective Action. Vol. 124. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Find this resource:

Pareto, V. 1906. Manuale di economia politica, Vol. 13. Milan Italy: Società Editrice Libreria.Find this resource:

Persson, T., and G. Tabellini. 1999. “The Size and Scope of Government: Comparative Politics with Rational Politicians.” European Economic Review 43(4): 699–735.Find this resource:

Rawls, J. 1958. “Justice as Fairness.” Philosophical Review, 67(2): 164–194.Find this resource:

Rawls, J. 2009. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Find this resource:

Riker, W. H. 1962. The Theory of Political Coalitions. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Find this resource:

Stigler, G. J. 1971. “The Theory of Economic Regulation.” Bell Journal of Economics and Management Science, 2(1): 3–21.Find this resource:

(p. xii) Shepsle, K. A., and B. R. Weingast. 1981. “Structure-Induced Equilibrium and Legislative Choice.” Public Choice 37(3): 503–519.Find this resource:

Tullock, G. 1967. “The Welfare Costs of Tariffs, Monopolies, and Theft.” Economic Inquiry 5(3): 224–232.Find this resource:

Tullock, G. 1980. “Efficient Rent Seeking.” In Toward a Theory of the Rent-Seeking Society. No. 4, edited by J. M. Buchanan, R. D. Tollison, and G. Tullock. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, pp. 97–112.Find this resource: