Exploring the Social and Political Economy of Alexis de Tocqueville

February, 2020

Alexis de Tocqueville’s work touched upon an exceptionally broad range of social scientific disciplines, from economics to religion, and from education to international affairs. His work consistently appeals to scholars dismayed by existing disciplinary silos. Tocqueville is also well-regarded for diagnosing both the promise and perils of democratic life. Consideration of his ideas provokes serious consideration of and engagement with contemporary trends as citizens in democratic countries cope with challenges posed by new technological, cultural, and political changes. However, attention to Tocqueville is uneven across disciplines, with political theorists paying him the most heed and economists the least. This volume focuses on political economy, trying to bridge this divide.

This book collects essays by emerging scholars from a variety of disciplines—political science, economics, sociology, philosophy, and social thought—to examine Tocqueville’s thoughts on political and social economy and its contemporary relevance. The book is divided into two halves. The first half engages with the main currents of research on Tocqueville’s own thoughts regarding economic institutions, constitutionalism, liberalism, history, and education. The second half applies Tocqueville’s insights to diverse contemporary topics including international relations, citizenship, mass incarceration, and pedagogy. This volume will be of interest to scholars and students interested in Tocqueville, the history of political thought, and a variety of current policy issues.

 

Chapters:

  • Introduction - Peter J. Boettke & Adam Martin

  • Tocqueville’s “New Political Science” as a Correction of The Federalist - Rory Schacter
  • “The Monetary Link”: Tocqueville on the Second Bank of the United States and Liberal Political Economy - Brianne Wolf

  • Tocqueville on the Mixed Blessing of Liberal Learning: Higher Education as Subversive Antidote - Luke Foster

  • Tocqueville’s Philosophy of History: Its Meaning and Implications for Russia and Central and Eastern Europe - Matthew Slaboch

  • A Tocquevillian Marketplace of Ideas? Spiritualism and Materialism in Tocqueville’s Liberalism - Sarah Gustafson

  • Democracy in the Age of Mass Incarceration - Kaitlyn Woltz

  • Tocquevillian Education for Self-Governance - Andrew G. Humphries

  • Alexis de Tocqueville’s Citizenship: A Model of Collective Virtue - Maura Priest

  • Open-Sourcing Civil Society - Vlad Tarko

  • Collective Individualism and Revolution: Reading Tocqueville in Beijing - Junpeng Li

  • Deconstructing American Exceptionalism - Katelyn C. Jones

Austrian Methodology

October, 2015

This chapter offers a synthetic account of the key methodological ideas espoused by prominent Austrian economists. It focuses on the contributions of Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig Lachmann, and Donald Lavoie, arguing that epistemological concerns fail to encapsulate their overlapping but distinctive and complementary methodological arguments. Their methodological positions are better explained as flowing from a shared and distinctive social ontology that underlies Austrian economic theory. Austrian social ontology is distinct because of its commitment to three key concepts: radical subjectivism, sheer ignorance, and spontaneous order. The chapter then presents a stylized schema of social processes that embodies these key concepts and shows that the schema both accommodates distinctively Austrian theories and allows for a synthesis of the key methodological contributions of all the Austrian economists discussed earlier.

The Oxford Handbook of Austrian Economics is available through Oxford University Press.

Editors: 
People: 
Christopher Coyne
People: 
Peter J. Boettke

Two-tiered political entrepreneurship and the congressional committee system

January, 2013

Theories of political entrepreneurship usually focus on the construction of coalitions necessary to change policy. We argue that political entrepreneurs who are unable to secure favored policies may redirect their efforts to a “higher tier,” attempting to change the rules of the game to enable the exploitation of future political profit opportunities. We present a taxonomy of three levels of political rules—pre-constitutional, constitutional, and post-constitutional—and identify the salient characteristics of institutional entrepreneurship that targets rules at each level. The development of the congressional committee system is explored as a case study in entrepreneurship over post-constitutional rules.

Find the article at SpringerLink.

Error is Obvious, Coordination is the Puzzle

January 31, 2013

As part of the Archival Insights into the Evolution of Economics series, Hayek and Behavioral Economics is a collection of works edited by Roger Frantz and Robert Leeson. 

In this article, the authors argue that behavioral economics has made its mark by bringing under intense scrutiny the limitations of individuals’ cognitive abilities. The conclusions of such inquiries call into question results from standard economic modeling dependent on assumptions of strong epistemic rationality. Most conspicuously, behavioral economists have introduced a host of new potential causes for market failures. F. A. Hayek likewise famously questioned the cognitive abilities of real world actors, but drew radically different conclusions. The authors argue that, for Hayek, market institutions rather than individual agents bear the primary cognitive burden in coordinating economic activity. Gaps in individual rationality thus fail to provide adequate grounds for positing market failures. Vernon Smith’s body of work, with its distinction between ecological and constructivist rationality, provides powerful support for the Hayekian position on which it draws its inspiration.

Amateur Public Choice and Regime Uncertainty in Post-Katrina New Orleans

April, 2007

Residents and business owners seeking to reestablish themselves in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina face a situation fraught with Knightian uncertainty. This paper argues that government involvement in the rebuilding process, far from alleviating the problems of uncertainty, exacerbates them. In order for government policy to be effective in this regard, residents would have to treat the determination of policy as exogenous to their mental models. Ethnographic evidence to the contrary is presented, illustrating that New Orleans residents are well aware of the importance of policy determination and so are subject to an additional source of uncertainty in the political process itself.

Amateur Public Choice and Regime Uncertainty in Post-Katrina New Orleans

April, 2008

This paper argues that government involvement in the rebuilding process, far from alleviating the problems of uncertainty, exacerbates them.  In order for government policy to be effective in this regard, residents would have to treat the determination of policy as exogenous to their mental models.