Edited by William F. Shughart II and Laura Razzolini
Chapter 1: The old and new public choice: Chicago versus Virginia
William C. Mitchell 1 Introduction In the pages that follow I attempt to sort out the distinctive contributions of two schools of thought concerning the use of economics in analysing politics: one is the now well-known Virginian version and the other, perhaps less wellknown set of theories associated with the Economics Department at the University of Chicago. Although the University of Chicago’s Economics Department has been a leader with high status since the 1920s and has always had a keen interest in politics and economic policies, it never founded public choice. In fact, when certain members of the Economics Department at the University of Virginia ﬁrst began formulating notions of public choice, it was regarded and sometimes known as ‘Chicago East’. The connection had to do with their shared ‘conservatism’. The seeds of public choice were sown at Charlottesville but they were uprooted in a distasteful way and transplanted at Blacksburg only to be transplanted again at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. During that time public choice was widely regarded as a Virginian product. Chicago’s entry into the ﬁeld was far more gradual and not really distinctive until the appearance in the 1980s of the landmark studies of Gary Becker (1983, 1985) on interest groups and Sam Peltzman (1980) on the growth of government. George Stigler’s research into regulation came much earlier under the rubric of ‘political economy’, but it never really formed the basis of what we now call ‘public choice’ nor was it within the purview of...
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