Constitutional Political Economy

Econ 828/Fall 2003


Rm. 318 Enterprise Hall



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September 8: Saint Augustine, The City of God

October 20: James M.  Buchanan & Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of  Consent

November 3: Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia

November 10: James M.  Buchanan, The Limits of Liberty and The Reason of Rules

November 17: Russell Hardin, Liberalism, Constitutionalism and Democracy


What is a constitution, and what does it do?  Does it serve any economic function? And by what standard can we compare alternative constitutions?


These are some of the questions we will explore this term.  As tentative answers let me offer the following as a starting point for our discussion.


1.      Constitutions define the procedures by which governing authorities will govern.

2.      Constitutions limit arbitrary government and yet empower government to accomplish tasks that are deemed necessary.

3.      Constitutions provide the framework of rules within which individuals interact with one another in the economic realm, and what they can expect from the government in terms of protection against predation.

4.      Constitutions are primarily judged on how they operate internally to create a polity, and comparatively on how that polity functions in terms of human rights and economic prosperity.


These answers are simple, and some might even say simplistic.  Constitutions reflect the prevailing ‘anthropology’ of the designers. They operate on the basis of the ideology of the ruling elite, and the particular circumstances of the time.   They embody aspirations for what is means to live the ‘good life’ and often compromises between the dominant interests that were involved in the framing.  Perhaps most importantly, constitutions reflect institutional mechanisms that constrain the proclivities of men on the one hand, and empower men to accomplish things they couldn’t on the other.  It is this balancing act that will attract our analytical attention.  Our philosophical attention will be drawn to the question of the appropriate anthropology, and our historical attention will focus on the effectiveness of alternative experiences with constitutional government in terms of human rights and economic performance.   In short, in exploring constitutional political economy we must learn to blend philosophical, economic and historical modes of argumentation.


The format for this course is straightforward.  Each week we will have a one-hour lecture on the topic from 4:30 to 5:30, followed by a fifteen-minute break.  After which we will have an open discussion on each of the readings for the remainder of class.  One student will be assigned each week to be the discussion leader, but all students are expected to read the material for the course prior to class.  In your role of discussion leader you will be evaluated both on the quality of the questions you ask and on how well you stimulate discussion among your classmates.   You will be required to turn in a  list of your discussion questions prior to class.


Your grade will be determined on the basis of 3 different assignments equally weighted.  Your role as discussion leader and your participation in class will constitute 1/3 of your grade.   A take home final exam designed to prepare you for the field exam in Constitutional/Institutional will be another 1/3 of your grade.  And  a term  paper in the field  of constitutional political economy  will be the final 1/3 of your grade.  The paper should be a first draft of a paper that you intended to submit to an academic journal such as Constitutional Political Economy, Public Choice, or a political science journal.  You should consult with me early and often about your topic.








August 25

Introduction to the class


September 8

The City of God and the City of Man

Saint Augustine, The City o f God.

September 15

Serving in Heaven or Ruling in Hell

John Milton, Paradise Lost.

September 22

Constraining Government from Athens to England

Scott Gordon, Controlling the State.

September 29

The American Ideal

Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.

October 6

If It Was About Liberty, Then Why Create a Central Government?

The Debate on the Constitution, Part 1 and 2.

October 14


Liberty and the Constitutional Project

F.  A.  Hayek, The Constitution of  Liberty.

October 20

The Logical Argument for Constitutional Democracy

James M.  Buchanan & Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of  Consent.

October 27

Justice as Fairness and Other Principles of a Liberal Society

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice.

November 3

Invisible Hand, Distributive Justice and Decentralization

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia.

November 10

Social Contract and the Protective and Productive State

James M.  Buchanan, The Limits of Liberty.


Geoffrey Brennan and James M.  Buchanan, The Reason of Rules.

November 17

Contract or Coordination: the Why Behind Constitutions

Russell Hardin, Liberalism, Constitutionalism and Democracy

November 24

Do the Arguments for Constraints Still Hold?

Jon Elster, Ulysses Unbound.

December 1

Radical Libertarianism as an Alternative

Murray N.  Rothbard, For A New Liberty.

December 8

Exams Due by 5:00pm in Rm. 324