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Can Democracy Promote the General Welfare?

  • James M. Buchanan (a1)
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To commence any answer to the question “Can democracy promote the general welfare?” requires attention to the meaning of “general welfare.” If this term is drained of all significance by being defined as “whatever the political decision process determines it to be,” then there is no content to the question. The meaning of the term can be restored only by classifying possible outcomes of democratic political processes into two sets – those that are general in application over all citizens and those that are discriminatory.

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1 For elaboration of the analysis, see Buchanan, James M., “Foundational Concerns: A Criticism of Public Choice Theory,” in Current Issues in Public Choice, ed. Pardo, José Casas and Schneider, Friedrich (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 1995).

2 For an extended discussion of arguments made in this section, see Buchanan, James M. and Tullock, Gordon, The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962).

3 Ibid. For the seminal analysis, see Wicksell, Knut, Finanztheoretische Untersuchungen (Jena: Fischer, 1896).

4 For extended discussion of the political efficiency of general taxation, see Buchanan, James M., “The Political Efficiency of General Taxation,” National Tax Journal, vol. 44, no. 4 (1994), pp. 401–10.

5 de Jasay, Anthony, The State (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985).

6 For a formal analysis of intergenerational exchange, see Samuelson, Paul A., “An Exact Consumption-Loan Model of Interest with or without the Social Contrivance of Money,” Journal of Political Economy, vol. 66, no. 6 (12 1958), pp. 467–82.

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Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
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