From neoclassical to neoliberal governmentality: Buchanan and public choice theory
Foucaults study of neoliberalism is centered on German ordoliberalism and the American Chicago School. Foucault was not interested in the theory of public choice, just as he kept early neoclassical economics out of the history of liberal governmentality. There is no reference to public choice theory' in his work on neoliberal governmentality. Flowever, if Foucault had seen the economic and political situation of neoliberalism today, and looked at how the behaviors and subjectivities are shaped in the private and social/political sphere within the current neoliberal structure and how the state reason is formed, he would have given to public choice theory' a certain place in his work on neoliberal governmentality.
Public choice theory is in the focus of critical theory today. The main reasons are the following: first of all, this theory is dominant in economic theory and politics. It is the essential inspiration for the new public management model and neoliberal governance based on using economics as a business form of expert knowledge for constructing the wide-ranging performative indicators, although Buchanan would not agree with the overlap of his theory with the model vis-a-vis the expansion of the bureaucracy under the model (Knafo, 2019: 4—7), which is an interesting case to see the articulation of a theory with the reality it is opposed to. Public choice theory opposes representative democracy, especially the democratic model of the Keynesian welfare state. It sees faulty public policies and democratic mechanisms as the cause of economic crises. Collective politics, being inherently evil, creates the conditions for the political market of rent-seeking behaviors. The idea of public interest is impossible, and this idea should not be enforced. The idea of public interest and democratic collective policy mechanisms should be abandoned. The state should be restructured according to the principles of competition and entrepreneurship.
But this would not mean to weaken the reduction of the state force. The political and economic order should not be left to the idea of spontaneous order as Hayek argued. The state, which should be formed in accordance with neoliberalism, should construct the market and the appropriate human subjectivity and patterns of behavior (Olssen, 2018). In this respect, the political sphere and subjectivity should be constructed according to the economy. In other words, homo petitions representing the collective politics around the public interest should be eliminated by homo economiats (Brown, 2015). Public choice theory is a branch of ‘economic imperialism’ whose core assumptions are ‘self- interest’, ‘market exchange’, and ‘individualism’ (Udehn, 1996). As such, it is an application of economics to non-economic fields through these assumptions, in which context it develops normative constructivist policies through which the economy is constructed as a ‘game’. It supports both economization and constructivism; in this sense public choice theory should be taken into the analysis of governmentality to reveal its political rationality and governmental technologies of the social and the self.
Based on the elucidations and literature review back in section 2, when it is understood as an economic theory, public choice theory is defined as a branch of political economy in the form of the economics of politics. When it is seen at the level of abstraction around its assumptions, the focus of public choice theory is the question of how the content and volume of public services/goods in the democratic market society are determined collectively and how they are realized simultaneously. But the theory is much more than an economic theory. Public choice theory has certain normative aspirations about human subjectivities and deserves attention from a governmental perspective. The theory connects the existence, functioning, and critique of public authorities and the structure of publicity to radical individualism. What is more, it attributes the constitutional construction of the political sphere to the rational choices and interests of individuals who produce the rules of economy and the institutions. At this point, establishing a legitimate and systematic neoliberal bond between the state/politics and the individual, the transformation of rules and institutions in accordance with neoliberal governmentality becomes a task for public choice theory.
The political task of the theory is to present an explanation of not only the complex political structure that arises from interpersonal interactions but also the neoliberal construction of the structure and subject. Normatively, for Buchanan, the task of the constitutional political economist is to assist individuals as citizens who want to control their social order while continuing to seek the rules of the political game that will best serve their purposes. The transformation of individuals’ behaviors and institutions can be accomplished by the existence of a comprehensive new political economy that focuses and works on human action, not social engineering as adopted by the Keynesian planning model. Public choice theory aims to make the fundamental ideas of the market economy operational in practice to maintain the freedom and welfare of autonomous individuals who create the values of the political and social complex, which derives from the interrelation of human actions. According to this normative view, it is essential to focus not on single human action but instead on behaviors between one another in the political and social structure, which should be dissociated from representative democracy and collective politics.
Since representative democracy does not prevent the expansion of the state and does not have a mechanism to regulate personal interests, it encourages the reproduction of rent-seeking behaviors in a political structure. Public choice theory has two solutions, one being political and the other ethical. Since politics is not necessarily concerned with the public in Buchanans setup, it can expand the state in line with the economic interests realized in the realm of politics or the political market. At the constitutional level, it is necessary to formulate rules restricting the state, which future governments must obey. These rules are designed compliant with the rational expectations of individuals about the future. As these rules operate, the mutual play of personal interests can simultaneously ensure equilibrium in the market (invisible hand) and the preservation of stability and protection of individual freedoms in public and collective life. Foucault mentions the rising of “party governmentality” (Foucault, 2008: 191) against the state governmentality' in the 20th century. In effect, Buchanans theory of voting and rules is directed against ‘party governmentality'’ that expands the scope of the state budget in close relation with the mass and public interest. Buchanan tries to build up strict individualistic governmentality to restrict ‘party governmentality’, which shifts his focus to ethics. This also demonstrates that neoliberal governmentality relies on a highly interdisciplinary economic theory in which discipline acquires its true meaning in the sense of the internal disciplining of individuals and interrelations.
The second solution is at an ethical and normative level, and this precisely defines the internal governmentality of public choice theory that seeks to construct a specific subjectivity. Buchanan’s theory' is known for its generalization of economics, but its constructivist nature is less emphasized. This is more about its normative character that employs external and internal constructivist forces. The external force is the small but strong state, the other being what Foucault would describe as ‘the technology' of the self’. The latter tries to establish disciplinary power in the subjectivity as permanent internal governmentality' of individuals in a way to set the limits subjects cannot surpass in their civic life. For self-government and internal regulation of individuals according to the market rules, Buchanan (2008) in a recent text considers Kant with an eye to incorporating the Kantian deontological ethics as a self-technology and the way' of internal limitations of the self for establishing the disciplinary power and morality into the neoliberal governmentality' in defense of the market economy, as the ordoliberals once did to establish the market economy as the sole and true moral way of social and civic life. However, the present mode of liberal self-government includes not only' the Kantian morality and imperatives to ensure “conduct of conducts” (Foucault, 2007: 389) from within for the market game to play, but also external imperatives that are seen clearly from the politics of austerity, which turns self-government to self-sacrifice under the sway of the populist and authoritarian neoliberalism.