Research Handbooks in Law and Economics series
Edited by Daniel A. Farber and Anne Joseph O’Connell
Chapter 2: Interest Groups and Public Choice
Steven Croley1 Introduction Interest groups constitute a recurrent – and periodically dominant – unit of analysis in American political economy. Along with voters, politicians, and regulators, interest groups complete the cast of politics, and thus command scholarly attention. As everybody knows, interest groups abound, they participate in all spheres of political decision-making, and they influence the development and execution of public policy in the United States. That may understate it: according to many, interest groups enjoy too much influence on public policymakers, which is one reason they deserve so much attention. Indeed, the so-called ‘interest group theory’ is, boiled down, a claim about interest groups’ corrosive effects on the political process. Yet there is still much we do not know. Interest groups exist, of course – we can observe them – but we are not always certain how. Interest groups participate in governmental decision-making processes, yes, but we are not exactly sure why. And interest groups shape policy, but we cannot say just when or how much. Much work, conceptual and empirical, remains. This chapter reviews some of the most influential analyses of political interest groups, influential especially in much legal literature. Space and purpose do not call for an exhaustive review of the expansive (sub)literature(s) on interest groups. Instead, using very select works, this chapter focuses on one vision of interest groups that resonates with the public choice orientation of this volume, and that has shown considerable, yet undue, staying power within the legal academy. Part I very briefly distinguishes interest...
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