Bastable, Charles, Public Finance.

One of the first textbooks ever written on the subject, and still eminently readable, with clear organization, definitions and explanations. The taxation of income, capital, imports, consumption goods, etc., and the effects on wages, rents, profits, production, and consumption are major topics, along with the government’s budget constraints.

Friedman, Milton and Rose Friedman, Tyranny of the Status Quo

This book clearly spells out why governments tend to tax and spend far beyond any point that can be justified in terms of promoting the general welfare. Additional spending can always be targeted in ways that provide visibly concentrate benefits on politically organized groups (including government bureaucracies) with the costs so widely dispersed (and often delayed) that they generate little political opposition. And once a spending program is put in place, people make decisions on the basis of its continued existence (decisions that would make no sense in its absence), interest groups coalesce around it, and so eliminating it becomes almost impossible no matter how ill advised it is. Some of the issues used to illustrate the problem (e.g., deficits, inflation, and unemployment) are not currently as troublesome at they were when the book was written, but, as an understanding of the Friedmans’ argument makes clear, there is no reason for complacently assuming that these problems won’t return.

Unfortunately, other issues discussed (education, crime, trade restrictions, and excessive government spending) remain serious problems. The book ends with an insightful consideration of how the status quo’s tyranny can be weakened, if not completely defeated.

Buchanan, James M., Collected Works, in particular:

Public Principles of Public Debt,

The Calculus of Consent (with Gordon Tullock)

This is a classic in Public Choice, effectively creating this field of research and providing much of the impetus and direction for its development. A major emphasis is on the important distinction between decisions on the political rules of the game (eg. the Constitution) and political decisions within the rules of the game. Political power provides opportunities for some to gain at the expense of others, and unless these opportunities are tightly constrained, the result will be decisions that are rational from the perspective of each political decision-maker, but destructively irrational from the perspective of the entire polity. There is an interesting tension in the book between the analyses of the powerful and destructive forces of ordinary politics and the positive-sum possibilities of constitutional democracy.

Public Finance in Democratic Process: Fiscal Institutions and Individual Choice

The Demand and Supply of Public Goods,

The Power to Tax: Analytical Foundations of a Fiscal Constitution

Gwartney, James; Stroup, Richard; and Sobel, Russell, Macroeconomics: Private and Public Choice

Miller, Roger Leroy, Daniel K. Benjamin, Douglass C. North, The Economics of Public Issues

O’Rourke, P. J., Parliament of Whores

If you would like to laugh and learn at the same                   time, then there is no better way to learn about public choice than by reading Parliament of Whores. When your customers have no motivation to know anything about the quality or cost of the product you are selling, then you are almost surely a politician and there is no limit to the bamboozle you can get away with, as long as your serve it up with a steady barrage of sanctimonious nonsense. The resulting waste may be depressing, but the absurdities are hilarious when lampooned by a first-rate humorist such as P. J. O’Rourke. The chapter on Agriculture policy alone is worth the price of this book.

Rauch, Jonathan, Demosclerosis

Simmons, Randy T. Beyond Politics: The Roots of Government Failure

See also Simmons’s Great Antidote interview on this title.

Wagner, Richard E., Rethinking Public Choice