James M. Buchanan and the Public Choice Tradition
24 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2021 Last revised: 22 Jul 2021
Date Written: July 16, 2021
James M. Buchanan’s 1969 book Cost and Choice speaks directly to the socialist calculation debate from the perspective of the “London Tradition” in the theory of cost. It also places Buchanan alongside Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman as an exemplar of what Thomas Sowell called “the constrained vision” in his 1987  book A Conflict of Visions. This essay explores Buchanan’s radical subjectivism in Cost and Choice, why it aligns him with Sowell’s “constrained vision,” and what this implies about Buchanan’s place within political theory generally. His radically subjectivist analysis of cost underlies his constitutional liberalism, obviating a more activist, interventionist political agenda. Furthermore, combining Buchanan’s subjectivism with Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions can help us better understand Buchanan’s earlier critiques of welfare economics. Thus, we posit that Cost and Choice has continued relevance for the public choice tradition in addition to its contributions to Austrian economics.
Keywords: Cost, subjectivism, Buchanan, social theory, classical liberalism, choice, London School of Economics, Austrian Economics
JEL Classification: A12, B25, B31, H11
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation