Groups, Sorting, and Inequality in Constitutional Political Economy

The ability to voluntarily choose our memberships within political groups is an important mechanism for disciplining political actors and encouraging better decision making over the use of public resources. However, sorting between voluntarily chosen groups also creates the opportunity for people to become sorted into groups of haves and have-nots, leading to a concern that voluntary sorting across groups could generate or exacerbate inequality in harmful ways. In this essay, I refer to both the example of choice within public education systems and to J. M. Buchanan’s work on interstate externalities within Federal systems to explore this issue. The conclusion is that there is much work to be done on the subject, but that the answer to the question must be a constitutional one, and that therefore the insights of Buchanan are important to those wishing to better understand this difficult question.

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