The Limits of Public Choice: A Sociological Critique of the Economic Theory of Politics

The Limits of Public Choice: A Sociological Critique of the Economic Theory of Politics

The Limits of Public Choice: A Sociological Critique of the Economic Theory of Politics

The Limits of Public Choice: A Sociological Critique of the Economic Theory of Politics

Synopsis

This book uses both empirical evidence and theoretical analysis to argue that the economic theory of politics is limited in scope and fertility. It presents political sociology as an alternative approach to politics.

Excerpt

We have seen, over the last three decades, an immense spread of economic thinking in all branches of social science (see, e.g. Hartley, 1992); a phenomenon commonly referred to as ‘economic imperialism’ (Tullock, 1972; Brenner, 1980; Stigler, 1984; Radnitzky and Bernholz, 1987; Udehn, 1992), or ‘universal economies’ (Radnitzky, 1992). Outside its traditional domain, the economic approach has proved most useful in the analysis of politics. Since the 1950s, there has been an invasion of economists into political territory. Many political scientists, too, have become impressed by the apparent power of this perspective and adopted its tools. Being a discipline with a topic, but no particular approach, political science is easily subjected to the influence of neighbouring disciplines (cf. Truman, 1955; Greer, 1969:55; Riker, 1982a:4).

Another reason for economic imperialism is the failure of economics in its own domain. With the expanding role of the state in economic life and the consequent interdependence of economy and polity, traditional economic theory became increasingly inadequate for the explanation of macroeconomic phenomena. To retrieve themselves from this embarrassing situation, economists called for the inclusion, or endogenization, of politicians in economic analysis. The economist’s way of doing this was by theoretical imperialism. Not only were political actors included in their analyses, but the economic approach was also applied to the domain of politics.

FROM POLITICAL SOCIOLOGY TO POLITICAL ECONOMY

Before economics became the exemplary model, political science received a strong impetus from sociology and social psychology (Dahl, 1961a:764ff; Lipset, 1969a: ix-xvi; Almond, 1991:36-38; Petracca, 1991:172). There were three sources: behaviouralism, group theory and structural-functionalism. Of these, ‘behaviouralism’ was the most important and, in a wide sense of the term, included the other two. In a narrow sense, ‘behaviouralism’ signified an empiricist approach to political behaviour.

The movement known as ‘behaviouralism’ in political science—not to be . . .

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