The Limits of Public Choice: A Sociological Critique of the Economic Theory of Politics.By Lars Udehn New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of : Routledge, 1996. Pp. xi, 447. $89.95 cloth, $25 paper.
The time is right for a book exploring the limits of public choice. The field has grown enormously in personnel, domain, and influence. From humble origins as a small scholarly discussion group in Virginia, the Public Choice Society has expanded to include hundreds of researchers in North America North America, third largest continent (1990 est. pop. 365,000,000), c.9,400,000 sq mi (24,346,000 sq km), the northern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere. , and counterpart societies have emerged in Europe and Japan. Those familiar with the range of topics researched under the inclusive rubric RUBRIC, civil law. The title or inscription of any law or statute, because the copyists formerly drew and painted the title of laws and statutes rubro colore, in red letters. Ayl. Pand. B. 1, t. 8; Diet. do Juris. h.t. of public choice know full well that economic imperialism Economic imperialism is the term used to describe the application of economics to the so called non-economic aspects of life such as crime, marriage and war. See also
1. has been hard at work. And none can doubt that the entire field gained professional stature with the awarding of the Nobel Prize Nobel Prize, award given for outstanding achievement in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, peace, or literature. The awards were established by the will of Alfred Nobel, who left a fund to provide annual prizes in the five areas listed above. in Economic Science to James M. Buchanan
Although the time is right for a book exploring the limits of public choice, practitioners may find that Lars Udehn's is not the right book for them. As its subtitle sub·ti·tle
1. A secondary, usually explanatory title, as of a literary work.
2. A printed translation of the dialogue of a foreign-language film shown at the bottom of the screen.
tr.v. suggests, it is written from a decidedly sociological viewpoint, the author being a sociologist affiliated with the University of Uppsala. Critics of public choice looking for Looking for
In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with. an erudite er·u·dite
Characterized by erudition; learned. See Synonyms at learned.
[Middle English erudit, from Latin discussion of the limitations of economic methodological orthodoxy argued from a sociological perspective The sociological perspective is a particular way of approaching a phenomena common in sociology. It involves maintaining objectivity, not by divesting oneself of values, but by critically evaluating and testing ideas, and accepting what may be surprising or even displeasing based that scorns economic imperialism will no doubt find this book much to their liking. Public choice disciples seeking honestly to consider the limits of economics generally and public choice specifically will probably find this work thought provoking and somewhat unsettling un·set·tle
v. un·set·tled, un·set·tling, un·set·tles
1. To displace from a settled condition; disrupt.
2. To make uneasy; disturb.
v.intr. . Ultimately, as a practicing economist, I was left longing for a book that explores the limits of public choice from the inside--that is, one fashioned by a fellow economist. More on this point later.
Udehn begins by calling attention to traditional political science as a field devoted primarily to description and much in need of theoretical guidance: "a discipline with a topic, but no particular approach" (p. 1). Clearly, for Udehn, economics plays a crucial role in illuminating some political phenomena, but so do the sister disciplines of psychology and sociology:
My quarrel is with those who make exaggerated claims concerning the
universality and explanatory power of economic theory. The argument of
this book is not that public choice is bad, but that there are definite
limits to the economic approach to politics; that there are certain
phenomena it is not well equipped to deal with, and some phenomena
it cannot handle at all. (p. 9)
Udehn writes for an audience of social scientists, taking care to make the book accessible to those in all branches of social science. He does not intend to undertake an ideological critique; instead, he wishes to focus on empirical and theoretical issues. The field known as public choice is considered broadly so as to include more than simply the Virginia School originators of the term. The inclusiveness, for example, allows Udehn at one fascinating juncture to dish out To serve out of a dish; to distribute in portions at table.
(Arch.) To hollow out, as a gutter in stone or wood.
to dispense freely; - also used figuratively; as, to dish out punishment; to dish out abuse or insult s>.
See also: Dish Dish Dish special derision to the late George Stigler George Joseph Stigler (January 17, 1911 – December 1, 1991) was a U.S. economist. He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1982, and was a key leader of the Chicago School of Economics, along with his close friend Milton Friedman. of the Chicago School Chicago School
Group of architects and engineers who in the 1890s exploited the twin developments of structural steel framing and the electrified elevator, paving the way for the ubiquitous modern-day skyscraper. of political economy for an alleged gross misreading MISREADING, contracts. When a deed is read falsely to an illiterate or blind man, who is a party to it, such false reading amounts to a fraud, because the contract never had the assent of both parties. 5 Co. 19; 6 East, R. 309; Dane's Ab. c. 86, a, 3, Sec. 7; 2 John. R. 404; 12 John. R. or misleading representation of Adam Smith on self-interest. Throughout the volume Udehn pulls no punches: his is no dispassionate dis·pas·sion·ate
Devoid of or unaffected by passion, emotion, or bias. See Synonyms at fair1.
Udehn has given a logical structure to his book. Preliminary observations concerning scope, approach, and organization appear in the Introduction. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the economic and sociological perspectives Sociological Perspectives is the official publication of the Pacific Sociological Association. It is a peer-reviewed quarterly journal published by University of California Press, in Berkeley, California. It was first published in 1957. on politics, reviewing noteworthy contributions to the respective literatures. Udehn invokes Buchanan's characterization of the methodology of public choice, which consists of three elements, namely, self-interest motivation, politics as exchange, and methodological individualism Methodological individualism is a philosophical method aimed at explaining and understanding broad society-wide developments as the aggregation of decisions by individuals. In the most extreme version, the "whole" is nothing but the "sum of its parts" (atomism). , discussed in turn in chapters 2 to 4. In chapter 5 Udehn considers the economic perspective on collective action, in chapter 6 the sociological. Chapter 7 offers conclusions.
Udehn takes issue with the assumption of self-interest in politics, which lies at the core of orthodox public choice methodology. His thesis holds that political man acts with regard to both group interests and the public interest in ways that deny solely selfish motivation. Udehn does note the more recent tendency to treat the self-interest axiom broadly enough to include even altruism, but he dismisses the broader interpretation as vacuous. His charge, then, is primarily lodged against an orthodox public choice in which, without apology, self-interest is equated with selfishness.
Udehn alerts readers to empirical shortcomings A shortcoming is a character flaw.
Shortcomings may also be:
medical specialty, medicine - the branches of medical science that deal with nonsurgical techniques
2. evidence, and little, if anything, in the way of confirmation" (pp. 85-86). Yet, earlier, he remarks about politicians: "there can be little doubt that incumbent politicians occasionally do try to `buy' votes...in a variety of ways [such as]...pork barrel pork barrel
A government project or appropriation that yields jobs or other benefits to a specific locale and patronage opportunities to its political representative. legislation, popular tax cuts, direct transfers and, above all, promises, immediately before elections" (p. 69). It is hard for me to understand why politicians so behave if people do not vote their pocketbooks.
An economist writing on the methodology of public choice might have argued that one requires only a sufficient tendency toward rational, self-interested behavior among some political actors at the margin in order for one to ascribe as·cribe
tr.v. as·cribed, as·crib·ing, as·cribes
1. To attribute to a specified cause, source, or origin: "Other people ascribe his exclusion from the canon to an unsubtle form of racism" economic causes to politics. Udehn misses this point or minimizes its relevance when he writes: "The point I wish to make is that some use of economic policy to increase the probability of re-election does not prove that politicians are all selfish. It only proves that they are human, perhaps all too human" (p. 69). An orthodox economist writing on methodology could acknowledge difficulties resulting from the axiom of self-interest, but would maintain the axiom nevertheless (either unflinchingly or with a wink) because to do otherwise would be tantamount to abandoning the economic approach. Preserving orthodoxy, however, is not Udehn's mission. He has come instead to highlight the need for a sociology of politics alongside public choice.
Udehn is correct that the task of explaining manifestations of altruism poses a special challenge to economists. Perhaps economists can develop better ways of dealing with other-regarding behavior, such as the fresh approach taken in Robert H. Frank's "What Price the High Moral Ground?" (Southern Economic Journal 63 [July 1996]: 1-17). Alternatively, and to Udehn's liking, economists could more humbly admit that some phenomena are better explained by other social sciences. As one who has never felt that economics provides an especially good explanation of, say, why audiences only sometimes give standing ovations, I have no problem with this alternative. Only the most doctrinaire doc·tri·naire
A person inflexibly attached to a practice or theory without regard to its practicality.
Of, relating to, or characteristic of a person inflexibly attached to a practice or theory. See Synonyms at dictatorial. economist would disagree.
Udehn sees politics as exchange, but not just that. He faults economists for carrying the baggage of stable preferences too far, to the exclusion of understanding politics as persuasion: if preferences are given, then the political forum is devoid of economic content and much of politics lies outside the realm of economics. Similarly, Udehn sees power and authority as integral to political life, yet outside the bounds of economics: authority presupposes organization, and organizational behavior has long resided in the domain of sociology; moreover, legitimate authority induces a norm of obedience to rules, hardly the kind of behavior that lends itself to rational-choice analysis.
By now I hope I have conveyed fairly the flavor of Udehn's work. The author has made a serious attempt to learn the literature of public choice, and his book deserves to be treated seriously. He has articulated well the sociologist's complaint against imperialist economics. Although that sociological perspective allows Udehn to see clearly some limitations of public choice that would be perhaps less than obvious to economists, it nonetheless clouds his view in the very area fundamental to appreciating fully public choice and its imperialist designs: being a sociologist, Udehn does not think like an economist about markets.
At various points in his book Udehn conveys the sense that economics can successfully explain market behavior because in the market lives selfish economic man. Social norms are such that selfishness is accepted in the market (p. 193). Public choice fails or is severely limited, however, because political man can be so much more than merely selfish; he can be socialized so·cial·ize
v. so·cial·ized, so·cial·iz·ing, so·cial·iz·es
1. To place under government or group ownership or control.
2. To make fit for companionship with others; make sociable. to care about his group interest and the public interest, too (p. 60). Udehn believes that market relations are at times exploitative and coercive, as with the power of capital over labor (p. 156) or men over women (pp. 156-57). He is concerned that the public choice movement has been about more market and less democracy (p. 188), especially as the movement has accompanied the rise of the New Right in politics, a deplorable development in Udehn's opinion (p. 8).
In contrast to Udehn's view of market incentives as base and incapable of developing the whole person (a questionable point in my opinion, but one not pursued here), consider instead the viewpoint typical of economists. Most economists (of the public choice stripe) revel in the self-regulating and social-harmonizing attributes of markets, attributes that transcend the character of the participants. It is quite natural for such economists to advocate political institutions that will work in some sense independent of the personal character (or lack thereof) of political actors. If you were to tell such an economist a story based on Udehn's view that someone is exploiting another in the market, you would have merely invited that economist to think more deeply about the relationship and rewrite the story. The economist's tale of the marketplace is in the end one of seduction, not coercion.
If economists in the public choice movement wish to encourage a larger role for markets, I submit they do so because they have studied extensively human behavior in the context of markets and are enamored en·am·or
tr.v. en·am·ored, en·am·or·ing, en·am·ors
To inspire with love; captivate: was enamored of the beautiful dancer; were enamored with the charming island. of the consequences in a way few sociologists are. Fine art is necessarily less appreciated by the untrained eye. Economists, by virtue of their understanding of human action in markets, do indeed have privileged insights into nonmarket behavior. These insights have limitations, however, so Udehn has done those social scientists interested in politics a favor by carefully and systematically reviewing the limits of public choice-as he sees them. Still, when a sociologist mentions, for instance, a norm of rule following in an organization characterized by legitimate authority, this economist cannot help wondering who captures the appropriable ap·pro·pri·a·ble
That can be appropriated: appropriable funds.
Adj. 1. appropriable - that can be appropriated; "appropriable funds"
alienable - transferable to another owner quasi-rents in that implicit market. For better or worse, both economists and sociologists tend to be discipline bound.