Edited by William F. Shughart II, Laura Razzolini and Michael Reksulak
Chapter 2: Public choice: the origins and development of a research program
Public choice is a relatively new discipline located at the interface between economics and political science. Its modern founding was the achievement of Duncan Black (1948a, 1948b, 1948c) whose articles are widely viewed as the seminal contributions that launched scholarship in the application of economic analysis into the traditional domain of political science. Yet, its true founding goes back almost two centuries in time, to the late eighteenth-century contributions of two French encyclopedistes, the Compte de Borda and the Marquis de Condorcet. The two French noblemen shared a conviction that social sciences were amenable to mathematical rigor, and made significant contributions to the theory of voting. These contributions form the foundations on which much of modern public choice has been built. In his pioneering work on elections, Condorcet sought to ‘inquire by mere reasoning, what degree of confidence the judgment of assemblies deserves’ (1785, p. iv). In modern jargon, he posed what is now known as the jury problem or the vote problem. The starting point, well-known to the encyclopedistes, is that majority voting is unambiguously the best voting rule only when two candidates are on stage. How might this rule be extended to three or more candidates? The naive but widely held answer is plurality voting, where each voter casts a vote for one candidate and the candidate with most votes is elected.
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