- New Thinking in Political Economy series
Edited by Edward Stringham
Chapter 8: Before Public Choice
8. Before public choice* James M. Buchanan A contact theory of the State is relatively easy to derive, and careful use of this theory can yield major explanatory results. To an extent at least, a ‘science’ exists for the purpose of providing psychologically satisfying explanations of what men can commonly observe about them. Presumably, we ‘feel better’ when we possess some explanatory framework or model that allows us to classify and interpret disparate sense perceptions. This imposition of order on the universe is a ‘good’ in the strict economic sense of this term: men will invest money, time, and effort in acquiring it. The contract theory of the State, in all of its manifestations, can be defended on such grounds. It is important for sociopolitical order and tranquility that ordinary men explain to themselves the working of governmental process in models that conceptually take their bases in cooperative rather than in noncooperative behavior. Admittedly and unabashedly, the contract theory serves, in this sense, a rationalization purpose or objective. We need a ‘logic of law,’ a ‘calculus of consent,’ a ‘logic of collective action,’ to use the titles of three books that embody modern-day contract theory foundations.1 Can the contract theory of the State serve other objectives, whether these be normative or positive in character? Can institutions which find no conceivable logical derivation in contract among cooperating parties be condemned on other than strictly personal grounds? Can alleged improvements in social arrangements be evaluated on anything other than...
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