The deep history of the radical right's stealth plan for America - 2017-07-20
KM: Just what is his theory of "public choice economics"?
NM: Buchanan was trained at the University of Chicago and was part of the same milieu as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek and others whose names are more well known. What he did that was different from them is take the tools that he learned at the University of Chicago and apply them to public life. So he looked at public actors, including elected officials, as self-interested, as people who were not really seeking the common good, not really trying to advance the public interest, but really serving their own interests.
So in the case of elected officials, he said that their real interest, their main interest was being re-elected. He was in public finance, so his contribution there was to say that because they were interested in being elected and because they weren't paying for the things that they were doing from their own pockets, they didn't care about running up deficits. They would promise one thing to environmentalists, say, and one thing to retirees and another thing to public schools and not care about raising adequate revenue to cover those things. He was not entirely wrong about that. But his theory of the motives of public actors was so cynical as to be utterly corrosive of the norms of a democratic society, as people pointed out along the way, but he would not listen.