Freedom of Association and its Discontents: The Calculus of Consent and the Civil Rights Movement
28 Pages Posted: 10 May 2018 Last revised: 9 Aug 2018
Date Written: April 25, 2018
Does the classical liberal emphasis on freedom of association provide an intellectual cover for bigotry? We formulate this suspicion in economic terms by using James Buchanan’s economic approach to ethics, according to which moral values can be understood as preferences about other people’s behaviors. We discuss two possible market failures associated with freedom of association: inter-group externalities and Schelling-type emergent segregation. We show that the classical liberal position about freedom of association, as elaborated in Buchanan and Tullock’s Calculus of Consent, is fully equipped to deal with the first one, but not with the second. The progressive view that some preferences are so offensive that they should be dismissed rather than engaged or negotiated with can be reframed as an attempt to solve the emergent segregation problem, but it is vulnerable to political economy problems of its own, in particular to an inherent tendency to over-expand the meaning of “bigotry”.
Keywords: calculus of consent, Schelling segregation, social justice, educational vouchers
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