A Conversation with James M. Buchanan (Part I)

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  • Initial credits
  • The Intellectual Portrait Series
  • Introducing James M. Buchanan
  • A conversation with James M. Buchanan and Geoffrey Brennan (part I)
  • Origins of public choice
  • Exchange
  • Politics as exchange
  • Meeting Knut Wicksell
  • Constitutions versus constitutions
  • Final words
  • Final credits
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A Conversation with James M. Buchanan (Part I)
James M. Buchanan, Geoffrey Brennan

Liberty Fund: The Intellectual Portrail Series
Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001

Thanks to Liberty Fund Inc. for permission to distribute this program. For further information about rights to this program or others produced by Liberty Fund Inc. go to The Intellectual Portrait Series and Copyright and Fair Use policy. 

Digitized by New Media - UFM. Guatemala, August 2013

Selected quotes, questions and external links: Amy M. Willis, Liberty Fund Fellow

Imagen: cc.jpgThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 License
Este trabajo ha sido registrado con una licencia Creative Commons 3.0

James M. Buchanan

James M. Buchanan
James M. Buchanan (1919–2013) was an American economist known for his work on public choice theory, for which he received the Nobel Memorial Prize in 1986. He was a member of the Board of Advisors of The Independent Institute, a distinguished senior fellow of the Cato Institute, and professor at George Mason University. He held an MS from the University of Tennessee and a PhD from the University of Chicago. Buchanan was author of Public Principles of Public Debt: A Defense and Restatement, The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy (with Gordon Tullock), Public Finance in Democratic Process: Fiscal Institutions and Individual Choice, Cost and Choice: An Inquiry in Economic Theory, among others.

Source: en.wikipedia.org
Last update: 07/01/2013

Selected Quotes from James M. Buchanan

"At some ultimate level, people must enter into political arrangements for mutual gain. There must be a shared benefit from being involved in organized government."

"That faith is based on an illusion- the illusion somehow that governments are benevolent, the illusion that politicians are saints."

"In a game... neither player is choosing the outcome. The outcome emerges from the choices made by different players given the alternatives that each faces."

"Economists have got to quit acting as if they're advising benevolent despots."

"We don't choose outcomes. We choose rules."

"We were interpreted by the other Virginia faculty as being right wing fascists. We were not deserving of appointment at the University of Virginia."

"There may be exchanges that we simply do not approve of, and there are obviously exchanges that are simply ruled out."

The Origins of Public Choice

Buchanan speaks of the "homely but important truth" that politicians are just like the rest of us. He notes this as a central part, but still only a part, of public choice theory. What's missing in describing public choice as embodying just this principle, also known as "politics without romance?"

When Buchanan arrived at the University of Chicago, he described himself as a "libertarian socialist." What did he mean by that, and how did his worldview change while he was there?

Brennan points to a common critique of public choice which suggests that if accepted, the theory would dangerously erode social trust. What is Buchanan's response to this critique? To what extent does he satisfactorily rebut it?

On Exchange

Buchanan claims that economics has gone down the wrong path in emphasizing maximization. Instead, he'd like to see the emphasis on exchange. How does exchange differ from maximization, according to Buchanan? Is this a more appropriate focus? Why?

Why does Buchanan regard game theory as the most important contribution of the last century? To what extent do you agree?

Politics as Exchange

What is the "aggregation fallacy" which Buchanan argues economics slipped into in the mid-twentieth century? Has it yet recovered?

While Buchanan stresses thinking about politics as exchange, he also notes that is not all exchange?

What other explanations of politics does he think can be useful, and why are competing models in general helpful to the study of politics?

On what grounds does Buchanan criticize the "empirical nonsense" in vogue in economics today? To what extent does he fairly characterize today's empirical research methods?

Meeting Wicksell

Buchanan describes his delight in finding Wicksell's early work in public finance. What innovations does Buchanan ascribe to Wicksell, and how did they influence Buchanan's own research program?

Buchanan describes how Wicksell's unanimity rule influenced The Calculus of Consent. How did Buchanan and Tullock revise Wicksell's concept in Calculus?

What does Buchanan regard as the primary contribution of The Calculus of Consent?

What does Buchanan mean when he says that one cannot appreciate the ideological ferment of the 1950s and 1960s today? Is he right?

Constitutions versus constitutions

What is the difference between Constitutions and constitutions, according to Buchanan, and why is this distinction so important?

Why does Buchanan believe that Hayek was mistaken in placing so much emphasis on the evolutionary nature of rules? Do you agree?

Brennan asks Buchanan which sorts of reforms he would advocate. What does he suggest, and how plausible do you find each?

Brennan suggests a tension exists between agreement at the constitutional level and existing institutional arrangements. What example does he point to, and how does Buchanan respond? Do you think this is a tension which can be mitigated or resolved?

When does Buchanan's constitutionalism trump his libertarianism, and vice versa?

How does Buchanan characterize the difference between his position and that of John Rawls? With whom do you agree more?

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