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Alternative Traditions in Public Choice

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 3, 2020 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM (PDT)

Marriott Marquis, Malibu City
Hosted By: History of Economics Society
  • Chair: William Shughart, Utah State University

Gordon Tullock on Majority Voting : the Making of a Conviction

Julien Grandjean
Université de Lorraine


This paper participates in the formation of the history of public choice theory. In particular, it will focus on the role of Gordon Tullock and the analysis of the simple majority decision- making process promoted in the famous Calculus of Consent, written along with James M. Buchanan. This paper shows that Tullock has already think about the issue of majority voting prior to the writing of his common book with Buchanan. Between 1959 and 1961 in particular, while Tullock was a postdoctoral fellow at the Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy and Social Philosophy at the University of Virginia and later Assistant Professor in the Department of International Studies at the University of South Carolina, he had an interesting interaction with James M. Buchanan and Anthony Downs about majority decision-making process in a democracy. This interaction that consists in a correspondence between Tullock, Buchanan, Downs and their editors can be found for a part in the Gordon Tullock papers of the Hoover Institution Archives. It gave birth to some major articles such as The Problem of Majority Voting by Tullock in 1959, Why the Government Budget is Too Small in a Democracy by Downs in 1960, Problems of Majority Voting: In Defense of Majority Voting by Downs and Problems of Majority Voting: Reply to a Traditionalist by Tullock in 1961. Our purpose is to highlight the interaction that forms the basis of these publications and shows the way Tullock matured his view about the majoritarian rule – one of the cornerstones of the public choice theory – at this time.

A Macroeconomic View of Public Choice

Rafael Galvão de Almeida
Federal University of Minas Gerais


Public choice theory is listed under microeconomics in the JEL code and it is considered largely an issue of microeconomics and microeconomists who work on the boundary of economics and political science. However, starting from the 1970s, there is an increasing number of macroeconomists researching on topics of political economy and public choice, and a few public choice scholars themselves have discussed macroeconomic issues under the public choice framework. The difference is that the first group attempted to separate themselves from the label “public choice”, adopting many labels, to which I use the term “New Political Macroeconomics” (NPM) as an umbrella term to label this tradition. This has created conflicts with other public choice scholars, who claim this attempt to “separate” from public choice is harmful to the field. NPM scholars, on the other hand, tend to not see themselves as public choice scholars, rather as macroeconomists. This article is an attempt to understand the formation of new political macroeconomics, how it became its own tradition of public choice and the reasons why it would want to separate from the label “public choice theory”. It can be argued NPM started with the formalization of the political business cycle model, which was a direct attempt to create a public choice-based macroeconomic model of the business cycle – the origins of the business cycle were in the political manipulation of the economy by the incumbent government. This could be considered a Keynesian model of public choice. Although the model failed to secure robust empirical confirmation, it did influence a few macroeconomists to study the political economy with a macroeconomic focus and this is enough to classify NPM as its own tradition of public choice, with different tools and yet studying similar topics. However, claims of lack of theoretical base and excessive ideology of public choice scholars (who tend to be conflated with the libertarian Virginia tradition) make NPM scholars turn away from public choice.

Duncan Black’s Theories of Voting and Special Interest Legislation in Public Finance

Gordon Brady
University of North Carolina-Greensboro
Francesco Forte
Sapienza University of Rome


This paper examines Duncan Black’s views on logrolling (thought immoral), voting psychology, special interest legislation, and institutional structures such as proportional representation and the use of special majority requirements. Black is primarily known for the theory of the committee, a work which has parallels to Ronald Coase’s development of the theory of the firm. To Virginia school scholars Black’s views on logrolling are a somewhat painful subject because Black viewed logrolling as behavior a morally correct man would not do. Further, Black alluded to historian and legal scholar A. V. Dicey’s dislike of logrolling as an “admitted evil.” Black also disliked the concept of “reinforced majority” (super majority). Black’s opposition to logrolling and reinforced majorities was closely related and fed on each other. Black’s dislike of both comes out in Black’s work on Wicksell’s views on Public Finance and special interest legislation.
Our paper also discusses Black’s mathematical consideration of unanimity in “International Affairs.” Black sought to apply his theory of the committee to an international conference by arguing that the larger the size of the majority required, the greater is the width of agreement ensured. He also noted that the larger the number of motions put forward, the less likely the condition of single-peakedness is to be fulfilled. Black’s work on this topic showed that he was antagonistic towards voting rules other than simple majority voting. Although as an internationalist and with some indications of conflicting loyalties, Black believed strongly in international agreements even those which did not use simple majority voting. In summary, Black’s influence on Public Choice was both personal and supportive through his writings and visits to Virginia, but generally out of the Virginia school corpus.
JEL Classifications
  • B0 - General