James Buchanan and Supermajority Rules

Over at the Independent Review, they have a symposium on James Buchanan, who passed away last year.  Buchanan was a giant.  My own work on supermajority rules (with John McGinnis) was greatly influenced by that of Buchanan (and Tullock).  In this article, John and I built upon Buchanan and Tullock’s The Calculus of Consent to argue that supermajority rules should be used for various types of decisions, including most importantly the decision to enact and amend constitutional provisions.  John and I used a different model than Buchanan and Tullock but reach similar conclusions.

In our work, we argue that supermajority rules should be used in situations where special interests are arrayed disproportionately in favor of passing legislation.  In this situation, special interests will lead to too much of that legislation passing.  We argue that spending laws are favored by special interests, but tend not to be opposed by special interests, and therefore we argue for a supermajority rule for spending laws.

A more difficult question is whether supermajority rules should be employed for regulations. We also believe (but much more tentatively) that special interests tend to arrayed more in favor of regulations than against regulations.  This suggests the possiblity of a case for a supermajority rule for regulations.

But what to do about existing regulatory laws that special interests favor but need to be repealed?  One does not want to add to require a repeal to secure a supermajority when special interests are also against the repeal.  One possible solution is to apply the supermajority rule for laws that add regulations, but not to laws that reduce regulations.