Main Argument: Brennan and Buchanan set out a case for the constitutionalist position: the importance of choosing relatively rigid rules that will provide constraints for day-to-day decision making. Rules are needed in order to overcome the instability of politics, for the sake of long-term objectives. Given the rules of the political game, certain kinds of policy may be infeasible. Political processes are unlikely to improve on the free market in distributing income equally, so that there should be rules outlawing or regulating political attempts at redistribution. The book seeks to persuade social scientists and social philosophers to treat constitutional rules, rather than the government policies of traditional welfare economics or the ‘social states’ of social choice theory, as the objects of normative analysis.
Contractarianism: Everybody’s moral views are equally valid; there are no experts about good, so everybody’s views should be put together by a process aimed at agreement.
Method: Virginia school of public choice. A standard public choice treatment of collective decision making. Uses a ‘constitutional-contractarian’ outlook.
Critique: If politics is only the rational pursuit of self-interest, then the constitutionalist argument cannot succeed politically, because it cannot succeed (as the authors note) by appealing exclusively to self-interest.
Critique: Overall this book was not well received from any of the reviews. The authors’ account of justice that is isolated from the relevant literature, narrow in scope, and without substantive bite because its focus on ‘just conduct’ leaves it unable to criticize the substance of rules.
Critique: They conclude with a plea for a “new civic religion” that will return us to the glories of the (economic) liberalism of an earlier age –> curiously at odds with the earlier chapter on economic individualism that lays the foundation for their theory of the social contract.