Individualism and Political Disorder

Individualism and Political Disorder

James M. Buchanan and Yong J. Yoon

Inspired by F.A. Hayek’s Individualism and Economic Order, this book also stands in contrast to the themes of that work, by emphasizing that collective action works differently from the way the market works. The chapters comprise papers written by James M.Buchanan, both with and without Yoon’s co-authorship, after the publication of his Collected Work volumes. These chapters reflect the authors' thoughts on politics, seen through the lens of fiscal policy and the tragedies of the commons and anti-commons in collective action. The pathologies of democratic politics rigorously analyzed in the book prove the relevance of Buchanan's constitutionalism

Chapter 8: Majoritarian exploitation of the fiscal commons: general taxes–differential transfers

James M. Buchanan and Yong J. Yoon

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, political economy, public choice theory


Do majoritarian democracies overexploit the general tax base, akin to the tragedy of the commons? Or, apart from any consideration of efficiency norms, are there “natural” forces in majoritarian politics that keep tax rates below revenue-maximizing limits? This paper formulates the fiscal process through the metaphor of the commons and analyzes the equilibrium that emerges in settings where differing majority coalitions may operate simultaneously to place charges on the general taxable capacity of the economy. The presence of a “membership externality,” emergent from the necessary intersections of members among separate majority coalitions, acts to limit fiscal exploitation, even in the pure transfer settings.

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