Monday, March 26, 2012

Austrian Economics Forum Spring '12 #3--Calculus and Consent

After a few years of attending the AEF, the third meeting was my first disappointment with this group.  (I suppose it was bound to happen.)  Yes, there was basketball that diverted some; and yes, there was severe weather; and so attendance was very low, but the real reason was that the topic really just did not fit our group.  It was on Chapters 4-6 of Buchanan and Tullock's The Calculus of Consent (1962). 
For me, the discussion went around and around in a large circle.  The problem actually stems from the last sentences in Chapter 2.

It seems futile to discuss a "theory" of constitutions for free societies on any other assumptions than these.  Unless the parties agree to participate in this way in the ultimate constitutional debate and to search for the required compromises needed to attain general agreement, no real constitution can be made.  An imposed constitution that embodies the coerced agreement of some members of the social group is a wholly different institution from that which we propose to examine in this book.  pp. 19-20.  (emphasis added)
Which political entity, then, could they be talking about?  Even my Home Owners Association fails to fit this definition!  Government is different than another human institution in this sense: it is the only institution that has the legal right to coerce and use force.  Without this definition at the heart of the analysis, the rest is fluff. 

To me the problem with government is the imposition of rules and regulations on groups that do not agree with the "choices" made by government.  We were to discuss the groupings of external costs that Buchanan and Tullock divided into a ("expected costs resulting from purely individualistic behavior"), b ("expected costs of an activity embodying private contractual arrangements designed to reduce [internalize] externalities") and g (total costs imposed by collective decision-making).  But if we agree that there is no coercion to keep people in the constitution, then why would I not just veto everything that I disagree with?  Now repeat that reasoning for everyone.  The result is that groupings fall apart.  Thus, the discussion went in circles and my disappointment.


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