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The Calculus of Consent (Selected Works of Gordon Tullock, The) (v. 2) Paperback – November 1, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

James M Buchanan is an eminent economist who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1986.
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Product Details

  • Series: Selected Works of Gordon Tullock, The (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 364 pages
  • Publisher: Liberty Fund, Inc.; Later Printing Used edition (November 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865975329
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865975323
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #848,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Arnold VINE VOICE on September 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
I understand the contribution this book made to public choice theory (basically inventing the field of study). I enjoyed some of the insights in the book, particularly the simple yet powerful argument about the size of government. Also, Buchanan and Tullock are refreshingly bold - and unrealistic - in their policy prescriptions for redistribution.

Nonetheless, I can't give this book a full five stars. First of all, as a read, it's quite a slog. Saying that Buchanan and Tullock weren't wordsmiths is an understatement. Their writing at times is obtuse and they rarely take the time to provide a proper introduction and conclusion to their arguments. I feel compelled to stress this because I constantly tell my students that good writing means the reader doesn't have to work hard to understand your argument. I feel in this case, too many of the authors' key points were hidden in overly long paragraphs.

Another critique of Calculus of Consent is that the book sometimes diverges from reality. There's very little empirical testing and only a few scattered examples. The policy implications of the book are even interesting or relevant to the real world. The authors seem to prefer small government and unanimous decision rules, but that just isn't practical. There are reasons why a unanimous decision rule would not work and the authors don't address some of the more interesting implications (such as income inequality). The policy proposals, such as having some states pay for federal spending in other states, strike me as laughable.

Overall, there's some great public choice theory to be gleamed from this text, but you'll have to work harder than you should to find it.
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Format: Paperback
Buchanan and Tullock (BT) wrote The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy in 1962, but their analysis is still worth considering.

Although the book is written for academics, it is not hard to read. Reasonable concentration and patience is all that's required to understand BT's exposition.*

Here's their big point: Constitutions should be designed from the perspective of individuals seeking their own interest, not a society seeking the greatest good for the greatest number.** They say this not because they think that people are selfish bastards, but because governments of/by/for the people need to be designed for the choices that individuals make. It's a question of "appropriate technology."

Here are a few notes that I made while reading:

* Economics "works" because people are different. That means that they can trade -- one man's trash is another man's treasure. The same holds for politics, where people have different needs and interests, and these change over time.
* Political choice is subject to uncertainty (NOT risk) over time, over multiple decisions. That means that a constitution should be designed to maximize "average" benefits (wins less losses) across many decisions (ex-ante unknown), allowing for trades in votes over many issues (logrolling). Decisions are made on two levels: At the ex-ante constitutional stage, general rules for making decisions are decided. On the current-event legislative stage, particular decisions are made. An individual may approve a constitution that allows him to be overruled, knowing that he will still gain net benefits from constitutional protections over time.
Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I understand the contribution this book made to public choice theory (basically inventing the field of study). I enjoyed some of the insights in the book, particularly the simple yet powerful argument about the size of government. Also, Buchanan and Tullock are refreshingly bold - and unrealistic - in their policy prescriptions for redistribution.

Nonetheless, I can't give this book a full five stars. First of all, as a read, it's quite a slog. Saying that Buchanan and Tullock weren't wordsmiths is an understatement. Their writing at times is obtuse and they rarely take the time to provide a proper introduction and conclusion to their arguments. I feel compelled to stress this because I constantly tell my students that good writing means the reader doesn't have to work hard to understand your argument. I feel in this case, too many of the authors' key points were hidden in overly long paragraphs.

Another critique of Calculus of Consent is that the book sometimes diverges from reality. There's very little empirical testing and only a few scattered examples. The policy implications of the book are even interesting or relevant to the real world. The authors seem to prefer small government and unanimous decision rules, but that just isn't practical. There are reasons why a unanimous decision rule would not work and the authors don't address some of the more interesting implications (such as income inequality). The policy proposals, such as having some states pay for federal spending in other states, strike me as laughable.

Overall, there's some great public choice theory to be gleamed from this text, but you'll have to work harder than you should to find it.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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