Table of Contents

The Elgar Companion to Public Choice, Second Edition

The Elgar Companion to Public Choice, Second Edition

Edited by William F. Shughart II, Laura Razzolini and Michael Reksulak

The Companion lays out a comprehensive history of the field and, in five additional parts, it explores public choice contributions to the study of the origins of the state, the organization of political activity, the analysis of decision-making in non-market institutions, the examination of tribal governance and to modeling and predicting the behavior of international organizations and transnational terrorism.

Chapter 3: Political science and public choice

Michael C. Munger

Subjects: economics and finance, austrian economics, public choice theory, politics and public policy, public choice


Political science is the study of power, cooperation, and the uses (legitimate or otherwise) of force. Public choice is the application of a general model of rational individual choice and action to a variety of problems of groups choosing in non-market settings. The two approaches overlap substantially in areas where (almost) everyone in a group agrees that it is desirable to capture the gains from exchange and cooperation for every individual. In this situation, public choice is squarely in the tradition of thinkers such as Aristotle, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Madison, and in some ways even Rousseau, all of whom saw institutions as means of capturing benefits for every individual. But in other realms political science and public choice have sharply conflicting predictions. Some political philosophers founded their theorizing on an organic conception of the society, a ‘state’ or ‘general will’ with its own goals and to which the individual owes core obligations. Public choice lies on different foundations. The central disagreement in premises can be stated in terms of two enlightenment philosophers, Locke and Rousseau. Locke saw private property as the basis of autonomy, and conceived of that autonomy as the first step toward justifying society (Locke [1689/1764] 2010). That is, society exists because it benefits the individual.

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