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James Buchanan’s “Public Choice Theory”

I briefly alluded to professor Buchanan’s “Public Choice Theory” on Thursday, 7 January 2010. As I have been saying for overe a year now it is absolute folly to believe in “reform” or “reform candidates” when it comes to Mordor on the Potomac. Our Constitution is dead and Congress is an ad hoc government making its own rules up as it consumes the population. Here’s an excerpt from Buchanan’s “Public Choice Theory”.

“There is a familiar criticism of public choice theory to the effect that it is ideologically biased. In comparing and analyzing alternative sets of constitutional rules, both those in existence and those that might be introduced prospectively, how does public choice theory, as such, remain neutral in the scientific sense?

Here it is necessary to appreciate the prevailing mind-set of social scientists and philosophers at the midpoint of the 20th century, when public choice arose. The socialist ideology was pervasive, and was supported by the allegedly neutral research program called “theoretical welfare economics,” which concentrated on identifying the failures of observed markets to meet idealized standards. In sum, this branch of inquiry offered theories of market failure. But failure in comparison with what? The implicit presumption was always that politicized corrections for market failures would work perfectly. In other words, market failures were set against an idealized politics.

Public choice then came along and provided analyses of the behavior of persons acting politically, whether voters, politicians or bureaucrats. These analyses exposed the essentially false comparisons that were then informing so much of both scientific and public opinion. In a very real sense, public choice became a set of theories of governmental failures, as an offset to the theories of market failures that had previously emerged from theoretical welfare economics. Or, as I put it in the title of a lecture in Vienna in 1978, public choice may be summarized by the three-word description, “politics without romance.”

The public choice research program is better seen as a correction of the scientific record than as the introduction of an anti-governmental ideology. Regardless of any ideological bias, exposure to public choice analysis necessarily brings a more critical attitude toward politicized nostrums to alleged socioeconomic problems. Public choice almost literally forces the critic to be pragmatic in comparing alternative constitutional arrangements, disallowing any presumption that bureaucratic corrections for market failures will accomplish the desired objectives.”

Read the rest of Buchanan’s spot on-common sense theory here and enjoy the “Founders Red Pill warmness” it brings”

A version of the old fable about the king’s nakedness may be helpful here. Public choice is like the small boy who said that the king really has no clothes. Once he said this, everyone recognized that the king’s nakedness had been recognized, but that no one had really called attention to this fact.

Let us be careful not to claim too much, however. Public choice did not emerge from some profoundly new insight, some new discovery, some social science miracle. Public choice, in its basic insights into the workings of politics, incorporates an understanding of human nature that differs little, if at all, from that of James Madison and his colleagues at the time of the American Founding. The essential wisdom of the 18th century, of Adam Smith and classical political economy and of the American Founders, was lost through two centuries of intellectual folly. Public choice does little more than incorporate a rediscovery of this wisdom and its implications into economic analyses of modern politics.

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About the author

Host of the Mike Church Show on The Veritas Radio Network's CRUSADE Channel & Founder of the Veritas Radio Network. Formerly, of Sirius/XM's Patriot channel 125. The show began in March of 2003 exclusively on Sirius and remains "the longest running radio talk show in satellite radio history".

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