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The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy Unknown Binding – 1965


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Product Details

  • Unknown Binding
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press (1965)
  • ASIN: B000H0JYNM
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,588,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This is truly a fascinating book.
Marc Vossman
In this landmark work, Buchanan and Tullock work through the basic principles of public choice theory.
E. Husman
Anyone who cares about what this country is and what it could be should read it.
Robert E. Lloyd

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Donald J. Boudreaux on February 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
Some reviewers comment that this book has "a conservative bias." Nothing could be further from the truth. This book is written in the great classical-liberal tradition that motivated the American revolution and the drafting of America's 1787 Constitution. Buchanan and Tullock saw themselves as putting into modern economic language the insights and wisdom of James Madison and Co. The book does indeed counsel skepticism of big government, and it is no great fan of unlimited democracy. But the authors come to this position because they understand that even democratic governments can be tyrannical and that a depoliticized society -- governed largely by private property rights -- promises peace, prosperity, and cultural flourishing. Few books on economics are as original and insightful as is The Calculus of Consent -- and it remains as fresh in 1999 as it was when first published in 1962.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Jerry H. Tempelman on March 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
The Calculus of Consent, written by James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, is one of the founding publications of what has since become known as the subdiscipline of public choice, which is the application of tools of economic analysis to the domain of political decision making. In theory, political decisions are made by elected officials in their pursuit of the "general interest" or the "common good", however defined. In reality, however, political decisions reflect the outcome of the workings of a number of interested parties, which includes voters, politicians, career government officials (bureaucrats), special-interest groups, lobbyists, etc., each of whom have their own agendas and interests. When someone appeals to the public interest while making a political argument, more often than not the underlying motive is a matter of self-interest (e.g. teachers' unions angling for larger teacher salaries under the pretext of improving public education). Public choice theory does not mean to be critical or cynical about this. Instead, it is merely intended to be descriptive: that's simply the way the political decision-making process works, and we need to understand this first before we try and improve the world through politics. For his central role in the development of public choice theory, professor Buchanan would go on to earn the 1986 Nobel prize in economics.

The book's main contribution lies in its development of the analysis of political behavior, particularly so-called logrolling (i.e. vote-trading, or political exchange). The Founding Fathers set up our political system in order for the general interest to be served rather than interests that only benefit specific groups at the expense of the rest of the population.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Robert E. Lloyd on November 27, 1998
Format: Paperback
This is probably one of the most rewarding books anyone can read. If you care about government and what it does (or doesn't) do to (or for) you, read this book. It requires patience and concentration, but it's well worth the effort. The authors succeed in showing how it is wrong to assume that government has always the best of intentions. They put a human face on politics and explain with impressive reasoning why government and politics produce unreasonable outcomes. The explanatory power of this book is unmatched. Anyone who cares about what this country is and what it could be should read it. Despite what you may have heard, their agenda is not conservative, it is individualistic, treating each person with dignity. The outcomes may surprise you, but you can't help but be moved by the force of their logic.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By E. Husman on January 5, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this landmark work, Buchanan and Tullock work through the basic principles of public choice theory. They reject the political scientists' conception of the political process in which policy decisions are viewed as a private interest vs. public interest struggle. They replace that with a theory that the public interest is simply the aggregation of private decision makers. They further point out that in the political science view, the "public interest" is always the correct choice with the same appeal to all voters, which may or may not be thwarted by "special interests", when in fact most choices appeal to many different "law consumers" with different strengths.
That is to say, given a choice to fund road improvements or not, some voters will have very strong feelings for, some strong feelings against, but many voters may not have strong feelings either way. In a market transaction, the voters strongly desiring the road could purchase the acceptance of the opposition and uninterested voters with concessions, resulting in an efficient allocation of resources (everyone is happy). The analog to this in the political realm is that politicians buy the votes of other politicians by promising to vote for their issues. Thus, in the Buchanan/Tullock view, such log-rolling is to be expected, while in the traditional political science view, it is anomalous. Their model explains things that the standard view of politics previously could not.
They also make distinctions between constitutional rules and voting made in the context of existing constitutional rules. As part of the constitution making process, they point out that the traditional political science approach views simple majority voting as the standard, and question why unanimity is not.
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