Starting from Where We Are: The Importance of the Status Quo in James Buchanan

In Richard E. Wagner (ed.), James M. Buchanan: A Theorist of Political Economy and Social Philosophy. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 39-64 (2018)
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Abstract

One of the key tenets of James Buchanan’s political thought was the centrality of the status quo, embodied in Buchanan’s frequently heard axiom that “we start from where we are.” There is practical political value in “starting from where we are,” because we are in fact there, and not someplace else. Buchanan’s normative concern is that starting from where “we are” means that changes are more likely to be voluntary, and therefore Pareto-improving. The history of this notion of the status quo in contractarian thought is developed briefly, and then a particular example, the Chilean Constitution and its problematic implementation, is discussed.

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Michael Munger
Duke University

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