Public choice

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Public choice or public choice theory refers to "the use of economic tools to deal with traditional problems of political science". Its content includes the study of political behavior.


  • The key to Public Choice, as you said earlier, is common sense. And common sense tells you that a politician is very much like the rest of us. A politician who's seeking office or seeking to remain in office is responsible, as he should be, to constituents. He wants to go back to a constituency and tell them that he's either lowered their taxes, or he's brought them program benefits. You plug that into politics and you have a natural proclivity of a politician to create deficits.
  • 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, in corporates 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.
  • [Economic thinking] influenced it in the sense that that kind of abstract thinking and models, while I felt they often bore too little relation to the reality and the complexity of economic life, they provided a degree of rigor. Political systems are I think more complicated than economics, and political behavior is more complicated than economic behavior; nevertheless, economics provided the kind of model or hope of a model that we could make use of for increased rigor in political science.
    • Robert A. Dahl, In: Robert A. Dahl and Margaret Levi, "A Conversation with Robert A. Dahl", Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 2009.
  • Public Choice and Classical Marxism have very similar theories of the state, and very similar predictions about the actions of those who seek to control it.
  • The Principle of Legitimacy tells us that the sum of these deadweight losses is less than the legislature's estimate of the gains from the redistribution of income, but Legitimacy does not tell us that these are desirable transfers, i.e, that one dollar taken from the general consumer and given to a well-paid employee of the merchant marine constitutes a net increase in the utility of the nation. If I challenge this interpretation, all that I will be doing is asserting that George Stigler's tastes are not those of the Congress, and who, besides myself, cares about that? Indeed, even I have become reconciled to the fact that American society does not fully share my preferences.
    • George Stigler, "The Effect of Government on Economic Efficiency." Business Economics (1988)
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