The 1968 Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to one of the
founders of public choice theory, James Buchanan, yet many people
have only the vaguest idea what public choice is. The book offers
and unusually clear and accessible introduction to an important
subject. McLean examines the workings of public choice from two
related perspectives - collective action and the aggregation of
individual preferences into social consensus.
The book highlights the paradox at the heart of collective
action- that self-interest in the public domain is frequently
counterproductive. National defense and clean air are things we all
benefit from - they are public goods - but we tend to resist
contributing to them. The first part of this book examines how
government choice in such areas is shaped, and by whom- political
entrepreneurs, bureaucrats, interest groups and ordinary citizens.
McLean uses the idea of a public market in which politicians sell
what they hope voters will buy, and further considers how and when
people (and animals) co-operate to produce public goods even
without government coercion. In the second part of the book the
author examines the consequences of combining individual
preferences, arguing that there is no straightforward way of adding
them up to form a 'social ordering' and assesing the implications
of this both for electoral reform and for the status of 'the will
of the people'.