Public choice: what to read

Jonathan G asks:

What concepts in public choice economics do you think liberals are under-exposed to? Can you recommend some books or articles?

I am not sure what he means by "liberals" so I will answer the question straight up about public choice.  I recommend:

1. Dennis Mueller, Public Choice III.  The best survey of the field, though this is an academic rather than a popular book.  On voting theory — an overrated area in my view – try Peter Ordeshook.

2. Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations.  The best applied explanation of the logic of concentrated benefits, diffuse costs.  

3. Bryan Caplan, The Myth of the Rational Voter.  On the democratic side of the equation.  Anthony Downs is still worth reading as well, though it needs a cheaper edition than $75.  Also read Daniel Klein on The People's Romance.

4. For "pro-government public choice," see Amihai Glazer and Lawrence Rothenberg, Why Government Succeeds and Why it Fails.  Also see my piece, with Glazer (an underrated public choice economist), "Rent-Seeking Promotes the Provision of Public Goods" (gated).

5. Buchanan and Tullock are among the most important public choice economists, but they don't come in canonical, easy to digest form.  Any recommendations here?  Liberty Fund has done the complete works.

6. Read Robin Hanson's blog posts on "politics isn't about policy."

7. An underrated topic is the application of behavioral economics to politicians and also voters and even special interest groups.

8. For understanding the U.S. system, I very much like David Stockman's The Triumph of Politics; oddly the paperback is priced at four times the hardcover.

9. Overall I recommend comparative approaches with other countries (start with Arend Ljiphart, plus Matt Yglesias has had good blog posts on this topic) and acquiring an anthropological and sociological understanding of political legitimacy and perception of interest.  The rational choice literature often neglects those topics.

10. Here is my short review on the public choice of finance and big government.

11. For frontier research, see the papers of Andrei Shleifer and Daron Acemoglu.  There is plenty of good applied research in political science, although this is less of a foundational place to start.

From the classics, there is Plato's Republic (a critique of tyranny in my view), Robert Michels Political Parties, Tocqueville's Democracy in America (politics as culture), and various Vilfredo Pareto essays, I am no longer sure which volume they are collected in (edited by Finer?).  The Federalist Papers are impressive, but are they impressive to read?

What am I neglecting?


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