The Elgar Companion to Public Choice
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The Elgar Companion to Public Choice

Edited by William F. Shughart II and Laura Razzolini

This authoritative and encyclopaedic reference work provides a thorough account of the public choice approach to economics and politics. The Companion breaks new ground by joining together the most important issues in the field in a single comprehensive volume. It contains state-of-the-art discussions of both old and contemporary problems, including new work by the founding fathers as well as contributions by a new generation of younger scholars.  
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Chapter 25: The public choice approach to economic history

Robert B. Ekelund and Audrey B. Davidson


Robert B. Ekelund, Jr and Audrey B. Davidson 1 Introduction History is the supreme laboratory for economists and other social scientists. Public choice theory, viewed especially as interest-group theory undergirded by rent-seeking activities, has much to add to historical analysis. However, historical–institutional analysis includes many other features of modern economic theory. This chapter therefore has two interrelated purposes. First, we seek to establish some of the links between public choice and a broader theory of institutional change. A simplified modern theory of institutional change premised on rational choice assumptions and neoclassical theorizing will be tentatively sketched. The discussion relates public choice principles to property rights assignments, transaction costs and economizing behavior to analyse the forces that shape institutions over time. In other words, the issues raised by public choice and interest groups are inextricably bound up with a richer theory of institutional change and it is a misconception to argue that public choice is somehow divorced from modern neoclassical theory. In order to approach an examination of the contributions of public choice to historical research, in other words, at least the suggestion or hint of how a theory of institutional change might be devised is necessary. Such a theory must contain elements relevant to market efficiency as well as to interest-group dynamics. It also should be noted that while many modern economists dealing with institutions seek explanations that impose some kind of order on history, they do so at greater or lesser distances from the assumptions of...

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