Public Choice and Austrian Economics
| Peter Klein |
The Austrian school and the Public Choice or Virginia school of economics are often tightly linked, both among the lay public and within academic circles. The connection isn’t obvious, however. While members of both schools tend to have classical-liberal views on political economy, the Virginia school emerged from the Chicago public finance tradition (Buchanan, after all, was a student and disciple of Knight) and is thoroughly “neoclassical” in orientation. Public choice economists tend to look to Chicago, not Vienna, for inspiration.
Anamaria Berea, Art Carden, and Jeremy Horpedahl take a different tack, drawing out common threads in Buchanan’s and Hayek’s subjectivist approach to cost.
Cost and Choice and The Sensory Order represent tangents from the basic research programs of their respective authors, James M. Buchanan and F.A. Hayek. These seeming diversions into methodology by two political-economic philosophers help to shed light on their underlying assumptions about cost and rationality. We argue that Buchanan and Hayek, and consequently Public Choice and Austrian Economics, have very similar underlying assumptions about the nature of cost. This can help to explain other similarities between the two schools, especially regarding the role of the state. These contributions are synthesized and applied to debates over the “new paternalism” and military conscription.
Tom DiLorenzo’s 1990 paper “The Subjectivist Roots of James Buchanan’s Economics” is also worth consulting on this connection. The question, though, is whether Cost and Choice (and the later Buchanan and Thirlby-edited volume, LSE Essays on Cost) is a consistent with the rest of the public choice tradition (including Buchanan’s own work).
NB: In graduate school I was exposed to the “positive political theory” (PPT) literature associated with Riker, Shepsle, Weingast, etc. and was surprised that the Virginia school was never mentiond in the discussion. A prominent PPT scholar told me once that PPT is “scientific,” while public choice is merely “ideological” and “low-tech.” Fair or not, I think this view is widespread among younger scholars. Has anyone written a good comparison of PPT and the public-choice approach?