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Quotation of the Day…

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… is from page 83 of my late colleague Jim Buchanan‘s pioneering August 1954 Journal of Political Economy article, “Individual Choice in Voting and the Market,” as this article is reprinted in volume 1 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan: The Logical Foundations of Constitutional Liberty: While it is no doubt true that both the individual’s earning and expenditure patterns are conditioned to a large degree by the average patterns of his social group, the distinction between this indirectly coercive effect involved in the social urge to conform and the direct and unavoidable coercion involved in collective decision seems an extremely important one. DBx: The collective decisions that Jim had in mind here are, of course, ones made through, and enforced by, the state. For an

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… is from page 83 of my late colleague Jim Buchanan‘s pioneering August 1954 Journal of Political Economy article, “Individual Choice in Voting and the Market,” as this article is reprinted in volume 1 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan: The Logical Foundations of Constitutional Liberty:

Quotation of the Day…While it is no doubt true that both the individual’s earning and expenditure patterns are conditioned to a large degree by the average patterns of his social group, the distinction between this indirectly coercive effect involved in the social urge to conform and the direct and unavoidable coercion involved in collective decision seems an extremely important one.

DBx: The collective decisions that Jim had in mind here are, of course, ones made through, and enforced by, the state.

For an individual to sense an urge to conform to the expectations of others – and almost always (more than you think!) to give in to that urge – is common and natural.  This urge is part of human nature.  We are social animals.  (The fact that Buchanan mentioned this reality in 1954 – and did so with an “of course” – is itself evidence against the straw-man ‘free-market’ economist who allegedly believes that each real-world individual is immune to social pressures – that is, believes that each individual is neither formed by, nor is part of, society.)

But, as Jim says, this universal urge of A to largely conform to the expectations of B and C (who are part of A’s social group) is categorically different from A being threatened with violence by B and C if A does not do as B and C command.  This difference grows even greater in those many cases in modern, legislation-using societies when B and C command A not simply to conform to the evolved expectations of the group but, instead, to obey the arbitrary will of B and C (as when, for example, B and C use threats of violence to prevent A from driving a car for hire, or when B and C command A to pay to them a punitive fee if A insists on purchasing goods from a foreign seller).

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Don Boudreaux
He is a professor of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Previously, he was president of the Foundation for Economic Education.

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