I address public choice from the perspective of economics in this essay. The “perspective of economics” is taken to mean the application of the principles of maximizing behavior and demand and supply to institutions and behavior in the political world. I begin with a discussion of this familiar methodology, and then proceed to illustrate how the principles of maximizing behavior and demand and supply can be applied to the various component parts of a representative democracy, including the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, as well as interest groups, bureaucracy, and voters. This will be in no sense a review of the literature. The point is to illustrate how economic principles can be applied to political behavior in each of the above contexts. In each case a single and simple illustration will be given. In such a way, the reader can decide whether the economic perspective really adds anything to the understanding of political behavior over and above alternative analyses. For example, do we learn more about a legislator’s behavior with an assumption that he acts in his self-interest or in the “public interest?” Finally, although many of the illustrations are related to U.S. political processes, I endeavor in each case to generalize the discussion to an international setting.


Interest Group Public Choice Wealth Transfer Electoral College Electoral Vote 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Anderson, G.M., Shughart, W.F., and Tollison, R.D. (1989). ‘‘On the incentives of judges to enforce legislative wealth transfers.’’ Journal of Law and Economics, 32, 215-228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson, G.M. and Tollison, R.D. (1991a). ‘‘Congressional influence and new deal spending, 1933-1939.’’ Journal of Law and Economics, 34, 161-175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, G.M. and Tollison, R.D. (1991b). ‘‘Political influence on civil war mortality rates: The electoral college as a battlefield.’’ Defence Economics, 2, 219-234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brams, S.J. and Davis, M.D. (1974). ‘‘The 3/2’s rule in presidential campaigning.’’ American Political Science Review, March, 113-134.Google Scholar
  5. Cohn, J. (1999). ‘‘Irrational exhuberance.’’ The New Republic, 25, 25-31.Google Scholar
  6. Colatoni, C.S., Levesque, T.J., and Ordeshook, P.C. (1975). ‘‘Campaign resource allocation under the electoral college.’’ American Political Science Review, March, 141-160.Google Scholar
  7. Crain, W.M., Shughart, W.F., and Tollison, R.D. (1988). ‘‘Legislative majorities as nonsalvageable assets.’’ Southern Economic Journal, 55, 303-314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Crain, W.M. and Tollison, R.D. (1979). ‘‘Constitutional change in a interest-group perspective.’’ Journal of Legal Studies, 8, 165-175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crain, W.M. and Tollison, R.D. (1991). ‘‘The price of influence in an interest-group economy.’’ Rationality and Society, 15, 437-449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Frey, B.S. and Gygi, B. (1990). ‘‘The political economy of international organizations.’’ Aubenwintschaft, 45, 371-394.Google Scholar
  11. Green, D.P. and Shapiro, I. (1996). Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory: A Critique of Applications in Political Science. New Haven: Yale Press.Google Scholar
  12. Grier, K.B., McDonald, M., and Tollison, R.D. (1995). ‘‘Electoral politics and the executive veto.’’ Economic Inquiry, 33, 427-440.Google Scholar
  13. Klein, B. and Leffler, K.B. (1981). ‘‘The role of market forces in assuring contractual performance.’’ Journal of Political Economy, 89, 615-641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Landes, W. and Posner, R. (1975). ‘‘The independent judiciary in an interest-group perspective.’’ Journal of Law and Economics, 18, 875-901.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Marvel, H.P. (1977). ‘‘Factory regulation: A reinterpretation of early English experience.’’ Journal of Law and Economics, 20, 379-402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. McCormick, R.E. and Tollison, R.D. (1978). ‘‘Legislatures as unions.’’ Journal of Political Economy, 86, 63-78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. McCormick, R.F. and Tollison, R.D. (1981). Politicians, legislation, and the economy. Boston: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  18. Moe, T.M. and Caldwell, M. (1994). ‘‘The institutional foundations of democratic government: A comparison of presidential and parliamentary systems.’’ Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, 150, 171-195.Google Scholar
  19. Mueller, D.C. and Murrell, P. (1986). ‘‘Interest groups and the size of government.’’ Public Choice, 48, 125-145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Neustadt, R.E. (1960). Presidential Power. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  21. Niskanen, W.A. (1971). Bureaucracy and Representative Government. Chicago: Aldine Atherton.Google Scholar
  22. Niskanen, W.A. (1975). ‘‘Bureaucrats and politicians.’’ Journal of Law and Economics, 18, 617-644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Posner, R.A. (1986). Economic Analysis of the Law. Boston: Little Brown.Google Scholar
  24. Riker, W.H. (1962). The Theory of Political Coalitions. New Haven: Yale Press.Google Scholar
  25. Rowley, C.K. (2000). ‘‘Budget deficits and the size of government in the U.K. and the U.S.: A public choice perspective on the Thatcher and Reagan years’’, in K.C. Chrystal and R. PennantRea (eds.) Public Choice Analysis of Economic Policy. London: St. Martin.Google Scholar
  26. Shepsle, K.A. and Weingast, B.R. (1981). ‘‘Structure-induced equilibrium and legislative choice.’’ Public Choice, 37(3), 503-519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Shughart, W.F. and Tollison, R.D. (1985). ‘‘Corporate chartering: An exploration in the economics of legal charge.’’ Economic Inquiry, 23, 585-599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Silberberg, E. (1975). Principles of Microeconomics. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  29. Stigler, G.J. (1972). ‘‘Economic competition and political competition.’’ Public Choice, 13, 91-106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Stigler, G.J. (1976). ‘‘The sizes of legislatures.’’ Journal of Legal Studies, 5, 1-16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Straayer, J.A. (1973). American State and Local Government. Columbus, OH: Merrill.Google Scholar
  32. Thaler, R.H. (1992). The Winners Curse: Paradoxes and Anolomies of Economic Life. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  33. Weck-Hanneman, H. (1990). ‘‘Protectionism in direct democracy.’’ Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, 146, 389-418.Google Scholar
  34. Weingast, B.R. and Moran, M.J. (1983). ‘‘Bureaucratic discretion or congressional control?’’ Journal of Political Economy, 91, 765-800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wessel, D. (2001). ‘‘The legal DNA of good economies.’’ Wall Street Journal, September 6, 1.Google Scholar
  36. Wintrobe, R. (1997). ‘‘Modern bureaucratic theory’’, in D.C. Mueller (ed.) Perspectives on Public Choice: A Handbook. Cambridge: Cambridge Press, pp. 429-454.Google Scholar
  37. Wright, G. (1974). ‘‘The political economy of new deal spending: An econometric analysis.’’ Review of Economics and Statistics, 56, 30-38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert D. Tollison

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations