Front Page Titles (by Subject) II.: The Ultimate Z 's - The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, Vol. 10 (The Reason of Rules: Constitutional Political Economy)
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II.: The Ultimate Z ’s - 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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The Ultimate Z’s
We shall relate the analysis here to modern developments in the theory of individual choice behavior, notably to the work of Gary Becker and his colleagues.1 In that work, the arguments in an individual’s utility function have been redefined so that they represent composite “commodities,” the Z’s, which are themselves produced by the household through combinations of inputs, the X’s, which are purchased as ordinary goods in the marketplace. Household production functions describe the relevant trade-offs among the separate inputs, the X’s, that are variously combined to generate the Z’s. The individual is modeled as maximizing utility, defined over the Z’s, given the market or shadow prices for the X’s, within some overall income constraint.
From this basic construction, it is relatively straightforward to shift one stage back in the individual’s decision process and to drop the income constraints by including leisure, or desired usage of time, as a Z commodity with its own shadow price. We can then model the individual as choosing a whole profile of behavior, constrained by time, talent, and initial endowments. This one step back in the decision sequence would seem to be as far as most modern economists could go. They would not seek to go farther back in the imagined choice chain, to get behind the set of composite commodities, the Beckerian Z’s. Economists become uncomfortable when they are unable to specify arguments in utility functions.
Our interest here, however, is not in further elaboration of the analysis of utility maximization in the orthodox economists’ framework. Our interest lies, instead, in moving beyond the Beckerian Z’s to what we might call the “ultimate Z’s.” Our concern is with an individual’s selection of a life-style, or behavior pattern, in a more comprehensive setting than any that might be conceptualized as the maximization of a function defined over a set of known arguments. The individual may choose a life plan, a sequence of actions, that he hopes will ensure that his experiences are “interesting,” “good,” “rewarding,” and/or “happy.”
There must, of course, be minimal attainment of the Beckerian Z’s for the achievement of such experiences. The basic human needs—food, clothing, shelter, sex, security, liberty—will place bounds on feasible life-styles. But, essentially, individuals in modern Western society have long since attained levels of affluence that enable them to transcend these elementary biological determinants of behavior.
[1. ]See Gary Becker, The Economic Approach to Human Behavior (University of Chicago Press, 1976).