Edited by William F. Shughart II, Laura Razzolini and Michael Reksulak
Chapter 3: Political science and 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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