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Foreword - James M. Buchanan, The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy 
The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, Vol. 3. The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy, with a Foreword by Robert D. Tollison (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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Foreword, coauthor note, and indexes © 1999 Liberty Fund, Inc. The Calculus of Consent, by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock © 1962, 1990 by the University of Michigan.
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The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy, by James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock,1 is one of the classic works that founded the subdiscipline of public choice in economics and political science. To this day the Calculus is widely read and cited, and there is still much to be gained from reading and rereading this book. It is important for its enduring theoretical contributions and for the vistas and possibilities that it opened up for a whole generation of scholars.
Among the major contributions of the book is its model of constitutional decision making; that is, the choice of the rules within which the activities of in-period politics play themselves out. This is a theme that echoes throughout Buchanan’s subsequent work, so much so that volume 16 of his Collected Works is devoted to the topic of constitutional political economy.2 In the late 1950s and early 1960s, choosing the rules of the game was (and perhaps still is) a relatively new topic for economists and political scientists, but the intriguing questions raised by this new perspective continue to entice young economic and political theorists who are busily building this new paradigm of constitutional choice.
Constitutional “choice” in the Calculus is unique in that such choice presupposes a type of generational uncertainty that prevents the decision maker from predicting how the choice will influence his or her welfare in the future. Thus, constitutional choice differs from ordinary political decision making in that it is devoid of direct self-interest. This is an interesting setting for analysis, and this problem lies at the center of modern economic analysis, in no small part due to the work of Buchanan. Moreover, the relevance of such analysis is apparent all around us in the postsocialist world. Constitutional choices are the order of the day as economies across the world make the transition to market-based institutions, in the process setting off debates and discussions about the appropriate framework of rules for these new social orders.
The Calculus is also relentless in its analysis of ordinary political behavior and institutions. Its analysis of logrolling and political exchange under majority rule is still one of the best treatments of this issue in the literature. The attack on majority voting procedures and the introduction of relative unanimity rules (à la Knut Wicksell, the famous Swedish economist) has also been a hallmark of Buchanan’s work throughout his career. He often speaks of the early influence of Wicksell on his work, and a photograph of Wicksell hangs prominently in Buchanan’s office.
The emphasis on the idea of politics as a form of “exchange” (for example, votes for policy positions) is also an important contribution of the Calculus. Politics is presented as a form of exchange that has both positive- and negative-sum attributes. This emphasis, which is a key feature of Buchanan’s methodological approach, profoundly altered the way scholars study politics. Politics is no longer viewed as a system in which elites regulate the unwashed masses’ excesses, but a world in which agents and principals try (albeit imperfectly) to carry out the public’s business. Politics and the market are both imperfect institutions, with the least-cost set of institutions never being obvious in any real case. The moral: We must better understand how institutions work in the real world to make such choices intelligently.
Some of the early reviews of the Calculus suggested that its approach, especially its emphasis on unanimity procedures, was conservative in that it would lead to the maintenance of the status quo. History suggests that this was a shortsighted view. In fact, the Calculus begot a legion of studies of voting rules, preference revelation mechanisms, legislative institutions, and the like, which are viewed as alternatives to business-as-usual, one man-one vote majority rule procedures. Buchanan and Tullock will have to explain for themselves why they are not conservatives. But, in fact, the Calculus is a radical book. It is a radical departure from the way politics is analyzed, and it carries within its methodological framework the seeds of a radical departure in the way democracies conduct their business. The Calculus is already a book for the ages.
Robert D. Tollison
Gordon Tullock and I were colleagues for more than a quarter century, at three Virginia universities. We were, throughout this period, coauthors, coentrepreneurs in academic enterprises, and coparticipants in an ongoing discussion about ideas, events, and persons. There were few, if any, areas of discourse left untouched, and I, more than most, benefited from Gordon’s sometimes undisciplined originality.
The origins and narrative account of our collaboration in The Calculus of Consent are detailed in the preface. The early reception of the book must, I am sure, have encouraged us to organize, with some National Science Foundation support, the small research conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1963, from which eventually emerged both the Public Choice Society and the journal Public Choice, the latter under Tullock’s editorship.
James M. Buchanan
[1. ]James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962), volume 3 in the series. Hereafter referred to as the Calculus.
[2. ]Volume 16, Choice, Contract, and Constitutions.