Public choice or public choice theory has been described as "the use of economic tools to deal with traditional problems of political science". Its content includes the study of political behavior. In political science, it is the subset of positive political theory that models voters, politicians, and bureaucrats as mainly self-interested. In particular, it studies such agents and their interactions in the social system either as such or under alternative constitutional rules. These can be represented in a number of ways, including standard constrained utility maximization, game theory, or decision theory. Public choice analysis has roots in positive analysis ("what is") but is often used for normative purposes ("what ought to be"), to identify a problem or suggest how a system could be improved by changes in constitutional rules, the subject of constitutional economics.
Within the classification codesJournal of Economic Literature, public choice is a subarea of microeconomics, under JEL: D7, Analysis of Collective Decision-Making, and including JEL: D72, Economic Models of Political Processes: Rent-Seeking, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior. Public choice theory is also closely related to social choice theory, a mathematical approach to aggregation of individual interests, welfares, or votes. Much early work had aspects of both, and both use the tools of economics and game theory. Since voter behavior influences the behavior of public officials, public choice theory often uses results from social choice theory. General treatments of public choice may also be classified under public economics.
Pork barrel is the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative's district. The usage originated in American English. In election campaigns, the term is used in derogatory fashion to attack opponents. Scholars, however, use it as a technical term regarding legislative control of local appropriations.
The term pork barrel politics usually refers to spending which is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes. In the popular 1863 story "The Children of the Public", Edward Everett Hale used the term pork barrel as a homely metaphor for any form of public spending to the citizenry. After the American Civil War, however, the term came to be used in a derogatory sense. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the modern sense of the term from 1873. By the 1870s, references to "pork" were common in Congress, and the term was further popularized by a 1919 article by Chester Collins Maxey in the National Municipal Review, which reported on certain legislative acts known to members of Congress as "pork barrel bills". He claimed that the phrase originated in a pre-Civil War practice of giving slaves a barrel of salt pork as a reward and requiring them to compete among themselves to get their share of the handout. More generally, a barrel of salt pork was a common larder item in 19th century households, and could be used as a measure of the family's financial well-being. For example, in his 1845 novel The Chainbearer, James Fenimore Cooper wrote, "I hold a family to be in a desperate way, when the mother can see the bottom of the pork barrel."