Buchanan, Hayek, and the Limits of Constitutional Ambitions

James Buchanan shared with F.A. Hayek a deep appreciation of the market as a creative discovery process. Like Hayek, Buchanan understood that the results of market processes are ever-changing, highly complex, and cannot possibly be consciously planned. Yet while Buchanan also shared Hayek’s commitment to classical liberalism—both normatively and as supplying a framework for research—Buchanan rejected Hayek’s thoroughgoing ‘evolutionary’ perspective. Unlike Hayek, Buchanan believed that human beings could and should—in an appropriately structured setting for social contracting—consciously design and choose the foundational rules that undergird society’s daily operations. When subjected to critical evaluation, however, Buchanan’s case for consciously designed and implemented constitutional rules for society does not stand up.

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