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Paper originally presented at Public Choice Society Fiftieth Anniversary Conference, New Orleans 2013.
The place of social choice research in academe, and specifically the role of the Public Choice Society and its successive leaders in promoting it, is reviewed. The first leaders of the Virginia School were ambivalent about both axiomatic social choice and the first-generation political implications drawn from it. Buchanan (J Polit Econ 62: 334–43, 1954) queried whether “collective choice” was simply a category mistake. Tullock (Public Choice 37:189–202, 1981a) asked “Why so much stability?”—an excellent question to which several answers are now available. Their joint Calculus of Consent argued that a free society required unanimous consent to a constitutional contract but did not explore how such a contract might be agreed. The key academic entrepreneur was the third President of the Society: W. H. Riker. His arbitrage brought together social choice and public choice. His historical work has been much criticized, but parts of it remain important and unchallenged. He used both the impossibility and the existence results of social choice to illuminate the question left unsolved by Buchanan and Tullock: how may a constitutional contract be drafted (e.g., 1787–1790) and changed (e.g., 1850–1868)? Riker, like Duncan Black whose career he salvaged, made original contributions to the history of social choice. In a brief review we consider whether its obscurity over centuries has been deserved.
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- The strange history of social choice, and the contribution of the Public Choice Society to its fifth revival
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