Public Choice and the Virginia Tradition of Political Economy

37 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2014

See all articles by Richard E. Wagner

Richard E. Wagner

George Mason University - Department of Economics; George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Date Written: July 24, 2014


This is a preliminary draft of the first of what will be eight chapters in a book titled Politics as a Peculiar Business: Public Choice in a System of Entangled Political Economy. This chapter explores some issues regarding the scholarly location of what is often described as the Virginia tradition in political economy. While the Virginia tradition originated during the neoclassical period and its widespread use of demonstrable reasoning, the home of the tradition resides in the classical tradition and its grounding in plausible reasoning. While the classical-neoclassical divide is commonly based on the explanation of prices and allocations, this is a sensible classificatory scheme only from within the neoclassical tradition. By contrast, scholarship within the spirit of Virginia political economy is more at home with the classical placement of the institutions of human governance and interaction into the analytical foreground, with prices and allocations being relegated to the background. This chapter is followed by an Appendix that contains a preliminary draft of the book’s Preface to provide context for the individual chapters.

Keywords: Virginia political economy; classical vs. neoclassical economics; Italianate public finance; demonstrative reasoning; plausible reasoning; complexity and political economy

JEL Classification: B12, B41, D23, P16

Suggested Citation

Wagner, Richard E., Public Choice and the Virginia Tradition of Political Economy (July 24, 2014). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 14-21, Available at SSRN: or

Richard E. Wagner (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
334 Enterprise Hall
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States
(703) 993-1132 (Phone)


George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

3434 Washington Blvd., 4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201
United States


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