- Series: Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, The (Book 7)
- Paperback: 261 pages
- Publisher: Liberty Fund (July 1, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0865972265
- ISBN-13: 978-0865972261
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,111,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Limits of Liberty, The (Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, The)
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* Anarchy is undesirable if for no other reason than that adopting some public works will increase Pareto-efficiency (e.g. David Hume's famous illustration of the drainage of the village meadow: p. 49).
* Leviathan-like government is also undesirable. The reason is Buchanan's usual theme that if left unchecked (e.g. constitutionally), government will grow larger than is Pareto-efficient (ch. 6) due to dynamics of public choice (which are briefly touched upon on pp. 129-131 but worked out in far greater detail in The Calculus of Consent).
The topic of the appropriate role and size of government is approached from an economist's rather than a philosopher's perspective (e.g., pp. 11, 98 make this explicit). Considerations are therefore of efficiency rather than justice or philosophy. E.g., property rights are based on contract-type reasons rather than natural-law type reasons such as those argued by John Locke and Robert Nozick (pp. 76-77).
The book is persuasive in demonstrating that "even under the most favorable conditions the operation of democratic process may generate budgetary excess" and that "[d]emocracy may become its own Leviathan unless constitutional limits are imposed and enforced" (pp. 204-205). However, it does not explore where in between anarchy and Leviathan the optimal size of government lies, or even how to determine this point (he says so explicitly on p. 222). This is deliberate, in that Buchanan does not want to impose his views of his own preferred society on the rest of us (pp. 3, 210). But while this is understandable, it also leaves the book hopelessly wanting or uninteresting. The thesis that neither anarchy nor Leviathan is ideal is neither new nor controversial, and it is the where-in-between part that is interesting (on p. 227 Buchanan acknowledges that the alternative that falls in between anarchy and Leviathan must indeed be articulated). If we are expected to buy in to "ordered anarchy" (pp. 149, 169, 215, 228), it would be helpful to know what Buchanan means by "ordered".
Note: All page references are to the Collected Works edition (vol. 7).