Economics is a science that unites an understanding of individual motivations and explains how these motivations create groups of people who work together to create a society. People will stay in a society for as long as they think they are getting more or less as much out of it as they are putting into it. That means society stands or falls on a calculus which I call the social calculus. If too many people feel the ledger is out of balance against them then they leave society. A Berlin Wall falls. The French have their revolution.
In the first two books of my trilogy (Pareto's Republic, The Apprentice Economist) I explored purely economic aspects of the social calculus. The time had come to integrate politics into economics because politics also has its own social calculus. The result of this effort is my book A Better Kind of Violence: The Chicago school of political economy, public choice, and the quest for a total theory of power.
I realized the topic was germane after attending Gary Becker's memorial in the fall of 2014 at the University of Chicago. Becker was my thesis advisor. There were a hundred other students there whom he had helped. The discussion swirled around his contribution to the economic analysis of politics.
After the conference I returned to thoughts I had mulled for the last 25 years. I needed to place Becker in the proper context of a larger stream of thought that had come to be known as Chicago political economy. Two remarkable claims emerged from this school. Politics will tend towards Pareto-efficiency, and policy advice is irrelevant due to an "efficient markets hypothesis" transposed from economics to politics.
But that was the surface interpretation. And there was a contender called public choice. James Buchanan saw politics as a two-stage game. In the first stage the rules were laid it. Call it a constitution. In the second politics were played out. Becker later came to the same conclusion. And both men seemed to believe that economists could be of use in formulating the rules of the game. Restrictions on campaign spending and limits on government spending should be built into constitutions. This would limit rent-seeking in the second stage of the game. In that second stage Becker divined, using the deadweight loss analysis of Harberger, that victims of political exploitation had an inbuilt advantage due to the asymmetry between the gains of predators and the losses of victims. Thus there would be push towards efficiency in the sense that predators would encounter stiffening resistance to their policies of expropriation.
Where does all of this leave us? Somewhere between Leeuwenhoek and Pasteur. The Dutchman learned how to spy out bacteria in his lens. It took another two hundred years before Pasteur could use that technology to cure rabies and increase yields for the French wine industry. Right now we are at the state where finally we are starting to understand how politics and economics are intertwined. That is a first peek down the microscope. Public choice is in part responsible but Becker's 1983 article on competition between interest groups for influence is the architectonic oeuvre in the union of politics and economics and should be seen as the most profound contribution to politics since Plato's metaphysics and especially his theory of forms.
My book explains how these disparate thinkers, working at the fringes of economics and politics have created a shockwave that is shaking the world of political analysis even though most political scientists may still be living like inhabitants of Pompeii, unaware of the intellectual pyroclasm about to descend upon them.