, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 39-57

A public choice approach to international organization

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Conclusion

The purpose of this paper has been to develop a positive theory of international organization which can supplement the conventional normative theory used as a positive theory.

The conventional approach draws much of its plausibility from the fact that it relies on the reasons given by the decision-makers and reported in the media, and on the lofty objections stated in the charters of international agencies. The public-choice approach, by its very nature, is precluded from accepting such evidence. In some respects, it must appear dismal and perhaps cynical.

It is a positive theory which tries to explain. But just as the conventional normative theory tends also to be used as a positive theory, our positive theory is likely to have normative implications as well.

It does not imply that international organization is generally undesirable. But it can be used to emphasize the advantages of decentralized policy making and to warn against a naive internationalism which welcomes international agreements for their own sake — regardless of what is being agreed upon. International organization can be and is abused, and the cause is not an occasional lack of virtue among politicians but a systematic built-in tendency toward collusion at the expense of the citizens. Such collusion is not only undesirable in itself. There is also the danger that it discredits and crowds out unambiguously desirable forms of international cooperation: agreements to remove non-market obstacles to market interdependence in the field of international trade and capital movements.

Earlier versions of this paper have been presented at the meeting of the European Public Choice Society in Alcala de Henares, April 1985, and at the 12th Interlaken Seminar on Analysis and Ideology, May 1985. I gratefully acknowledge very helpful comments from the participants and from two anonymous referees of the journal International Organization.