How to talk: Richard Whately, The Constitutional Conversation, Informal Social Groups, and Reform



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This thesis describes opens the black box of “government by discussion” by examining the place of sympathetic exchange in shaping social order through the catallactic lens of Richard Whately. James Buchanan taught us to think about the constitutional stage of rule development. The social contract is the outcome of a conversation, and language is the currency for sympathetic exchange. Therefore, the conversation itself must be governed by rules. The rules of conversation are partially determinative of the constitution that emerges from the constitutional stage. The right constraints on conversation are essential to establishing a legitimate liberal constitution. Whately provides instruction on how to talk, and he walks the walk. In informal settings, rules for social interaction emerge, just as price emerges in a market. Informal social groups develop a tacit social contract embodied in a repertoire. Informal social groups lack an authorized decision maker, so they have difficulty engaging in exchanges as a unit. Formal associations may emerge from an informal social group, like firms emerging in the market, with local decision makers authorized to engage in exchanges. Formal associations may pursue social profits or social rents, analogous to a market firm. Informal factions may also develop within an informal social group. Factions may simply be specialized sub-groups, or they may adopt party-spirit that demonstrates antipathy to outsiders. Whately is an exemplar of the sort of engagement in policy development that economists should do, setting the mold that Vining and Buchanan later describe in the abstract. Whately was more involved in the discussions over abolition than has previously been explored. He promotes a plan for compensated emancipation that provides a Pareto improvement for all parties concerned by introducing a revenue neutral shift to a self-assessed tax and political representation, inclusion in the discussion over shared rules.