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Constitutional Political Economy – Agreement on Rules

  • Russell Hardin


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1 Buchanan, James M., ‘The Constitution of Economic Policy’, Science, 236 (12 06 1987), 1433–6, p. 1433.

2 Buchanan, , ‘The Constitution of Economic Policy’, p. 1434.

3 Buchanan, , ‘The Constitution of Economic Policy’, p. 1435, emphases added.

4 Buchanan, , ‘The Constitution of Economic Policy’, p. 1436n.

5 Buchanan, James M. and Tullock, Gordon, The Calculus of Consent (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1962).

6 Brennan, Geoffrey and Buchanan, James M., The Reason of Rules: Constitutional Political Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 2731, 107. Page references to this book will be given in the text in parentheses.

7 He and Brennan, say, ‘It is consensus that performs [the] basic normative function’ in their account (p. 98).

8 Harsanyi, John C., ‘Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-Taking’, Journal of Political Economy, 61 (1953), 434–5, and ‘Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility’, Journal of Political Economy, 63 (1955), 309–21.

9 Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971).

10 In the published version of the paper that Brennan and Buchanan cite, Coleman speaks of epistemic and ‘semantic’ usages. (Coleman, Jules L., ‘The Foundations of Constitutional Economies’, pp. 141–55 in McKenzie, Richard B., ed., Constitutional Economics (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1984), especially pp. 146–8.)

11 Brennan and Buchanan may be making the same point when they say that ‘Individuals make their evaluations… only as the trading process takes place, and, without trade, there could be no means of determining what value is at all’ (p. 24). The difficulty in concluding that this is their meaning is in knowing who it is who could have ‘no means of determining what value is at all’. They may be saying that I have no means of determining even my own values without trade.

12 Quoted in Miller, John C., The Federalist Era, 1789–1801 (New York: Harper, 1960), p. 82. Many of his contemporaries must have ranked Hamilton's as among the least trustworthy hands around. Rossiter calls the Constitution ‘only a spider's web of words’ that, upon ratification, still had to be converted ‘into the solid reality of a political system both operational and legitimate’ (Rossiter, Clinton, 1787: The Grand Convention (New York: Macmillan, 1966), p. 299).

13 Hume, David, ‘Of the Original Contract’, pp.465–88 in Hume, , Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Miller, Eugene F. (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Classics, 1985; essay first published in 1748).

14 Buchanan, and Tullock, , The Calculus of Consent.

15 Madison's frail device is to suppose that ‘assent may be inferred, where no positive dissent appears’. (Madison, James, ‘Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 4 February 1790’, pp. 70–1 in Kurland, Philip B. and Lerner, Ralph, The Founders' Constitution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 5 vols, ‘Volume I: Major Themes’, p. 71.) The frailty of the device in his case is that it was invoked less than two years after he had struggled, in the Federalist Papers and in extensive politicking, against strong opposition to get the Constitution ratified.

16 Hardin, Russell, ‘Does Might Make Right?’ pp.201–17 in Pennock, J. Roland and Chapman, John W., eds, NOMOS 29: Authority Revisited (New York: New York University Press, 1987).

17 See also remarks on pp. 101, 146. For a nearly opposite complaint that even economists object to the use of explanation from self-interest in realms other than market economics, see p. 46.

18 In a footnote (p. 37), Buchanan takes most credit for this railing.

19 Black, Duncan, The Theory of Committees and Elections (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958); and Arrow, Kenneth J., Social Choice and Individual Values, 2nd edn (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963; first published 1951).

20 Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. Selby-Bigge, L. A. and Nidditch, P. H., 2nd edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978; first published 1739–40), book 3, passim especially part 2, section 7, pp. 534–9; Rawls, John, ‘Two Concepts of Rules’, Philosophical Review, 64 (1955), 332; see also Hardin, Russell, Morality within the Limits of Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), §21.

21 Hume, David, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, pp. 167323 in Hume, , Enquiries, ed. Selby-Bigge, L. A. and Nidditch, P. H., 3rd edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975; Enquiry first published in 1751), pp. 183–92.

22 They say, ‘The contractarian–constitutionalist position is almost necessarily nonconsequentialist and deontological. Evaluative criteria must be applied to rules or processes rather than to end states or results, at least in any direct sense’ (p. 45). See also p. 100.

23 Madison, , Federalist, no. 14, p. 131 in Rutland, and Lerner, , The Founders' Constitution, vol. 1.

24 Wilson, James, ‘Lectures on Law’, in The Works of James Wilson, ed. by McCloskey, Robert Green, 2 vols (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967, essay first published in 1791), excerpted in Kurland, and Lerner, , The Founders' Constitution, vol. 1, p. 73.

25 They discuss this issue in a section oddly entitled ‘The role of norms’ (pp. 146–9).

26 It is such questions that Brennan and Buchanan pose (pp. 145–6) to set up their discussions of norms and civic religion.

27 This is also the chief interest of Buchanan and Tullock, in The Calculus of Consent and of Downs, Anthony in An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York: Harper, 1957).

28 Brennan and Buchanan briefly address this issue in a discussion of who will seek public office (p. 64), although here their central concern seems to be with those who seek elective office.

29 Madison, , Federalist, no. 51, pp. 330–1 in Kurland, and Lerner, , The Founders' Constitution, vol. 1, p. 330.

30 For their views on taxation, see Brennan, Geoffrey and Buchanan, James M., The Power to Tax: Analytical Foundations of a Fiscal Constitution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980). For briefer statements on inflation and deficit financing, see The Reason of Rules, pp. 90–3 and 93–4.

31 They say that ‘the empirical record of the establishment of historical states is essentially irrelevant to the contractarian explanatory argument’ (p. 22). It might not be irrelevant to our understanding of the plausibility of their contractarian program and, especially, their commitment to abstract rules.

32 As Buchanan notes, the Philadelphia ‘convention was one of the few historical examples in which political rules were deliberately chosen’ (Buchanan, , ‘The Constitution of Economic Policy’, p. 1436).

33 For further discussion of the fate and role of the constitution, see Hardin, Russell, ‘Why a Constitution?’ forthcoming in Grofman, Bernard and Wittman, Donald, eds, The Federalist Papers.

* Political Science. Philosophy and Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.

Constitutional Political Economy – Agreement on Rules

  • Russell Hardin


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