The New Authoritarianism in Public Choice

Political Studies, Forthcoming

36 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2021 Last revised: 23 Aug 2021

See all articles by David Froomkin

David Froomkin

Yale University

Ian Shapiro

Yale University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: July 10, 2021


Much early public choice theory focused on alleged pathologies of democratic legislatures, portraying them as irrational, manipulable, or subject to capture. Recent years have seen the emergence of a new strand of argument, reaffirming the old skepticism of legislatures but suggesting that transferring power from legislatures to chief executives offers a solution. Just as the earlier prescriptions ignored the pathologies of the agencies empowered to check and constrain legislatures, so the new scholarship overlooks the pathologies of executive power. The primary sources of congressional dysfunction call for reforms that would strengthen Congress instead of hobbling it in new ways that exacerbate the drift toward authoritarian presidentialism in the American system. Executive aggrandizement is a consequence of decades of institutional malfunction, worsened by right-wing attacks on legislative capacity. This has been the enduring impact of the public choice movement since the 1950s, but its twenty-first century offshoot is especially malign.

Keywords: public choice theory, separation of powers, executive power, democratic theory, constitutional theory

Suggested Citation

Froomkin, David and Shapiro, Ian, The New Authoritarianism in Public Choice (July 10, 2021). Political Studies, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

David Froomkin (Contact Author)

Yale University ( email )

United States

Ian Shapiro

Yale University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Box 208269
New Haven, DC 06520-8269
United States

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