Front Page Titles (by Subject) III.: Rules of Games - The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, Vol. 10 (The Reason of Rules: Constitutional Political Economy)
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III.: Rules of Games - Geoffrey Brennan, The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, Vol. 10 (The Reason of Rules: Constitutional Political Economy) 
The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, Vol. 10 (The Reason of Rules: Constitutional Political Economy) Foreword by Robert D. Tollison (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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Rules of Games
When the word “rules” is mentioned, perhaps the most familiar association is with “games.” And it will be useful to discuss rules in ordinary games—parlor games such as bridge, or sports such as tennis or basketball. All games have rules that define the parameters within which play takes place—the actions allowed by the players, the equipment used, the means of settling disputes, the way in which the winner is determined, and so on.
In discussing ordinary games, we have little or no difficulty in distinguishing between the rules of the game as such and plays of the game within these rules. Play takes place within the rules, but play itself does not constitute part of the rules. Rules provide the framework for the playing of the game, and many different patterns of play may take place within given rules. By contrast, a particular play of the game is determinate or closed. Indeed, it is confusing that in common usage we use the word “game” to refer both to the structure of the rules (for example, “basketball is a game”) and to the play within the rules (for example, “the Lakers beat the Celtics in last night’s game”).
In a sociopolitical context, the same distinctions apply between rules of social interaction and the patterns of behavior that take place within those rules. The distinction here is often more difficult to make than in ordinary games, and the discussion of the latter is helpful in precisely this respect. The validity of the distinction between rules and behavior within rules is general, however, over all interaction settings.
The ordinary game setting also facilitates discussion of a related but separate distinction between the choice of a strategy of play within a set of defined rules and the choice of the rules themselves. The choice of a group of potential poker players between stud and draw poker is quite different from the choice of a single player, under stud poker rules, between folding or staying in for an extra card.
The corresponding distinction in the sociopolitical context must be emphasized. It is necessary to separate the process through which the rules are determined from the process through which particular actions within those rules are chosen. Again, however, the distinction is somewhat more difficult to draw in the social setting because of the complex interdependencies between the rules that define the constraints on private behavior and the rules that define the constraints on the political agents who may engage in activities involving changes in the first set of rules. That is to say, legislative majorities may be acting within the rules (the political constitution) that constrain their own behavior in changing the rules that constrain the behavior of persons in their private capacities. One must be careful to make the distinction between a choice among rules and a choice among strategies within rules applicable to the situation confronted by a well-defined decision-making unit. For example, if a property rule allows us to burn brush on our own land, we act within the rules when we decide to burn a pile of brush on a particular day. A legislative enactment outlawing brush burning amounts to a change in the rules that we, as private landowners, follow. But the legislature, in passing this regulation, acts within its own rules, consisting, say, of simple majority voting. A primary advantage of beginning our discussion with familiar ordinary games is that the two levels of choice are intuitively clear.
The treatment of rules in ordinary games may be misleading in certain respects. Ordinary games are designed to make play within the rules interesting. That is, play as such is one objective shared by all potential participants. The basic dilemma that we introduced earlier, in which rules are desired because they lead to avoidance of unwanted outcomes, tends to be obscured in the treatment of ordinary games.
As we shift attention to the settings for sociopolitical interactions, there need be nothing analogous to the enjoyment of play as such, and the payoffs to individual players need not be designed as counters for the purpose of making the activity interesting. There need be no shared objective in sociopolitical rules. Individuals are recognized to possess their own privately determined objectives, their own life plans, and these need not be common to all persons. In this setting, rules have the function of facilitating interactions among persons who may desire quite different things. To discuss this feature, it is best to shift to an alternative framework.