James M. Buchanan, Geoffrey Brennan
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During the second part of this conversation, Nobel Prize winner in Economics, James M. Buchanan gives his insights on topics such as work ethic, anarchy, federalism, subjectivism, and tells anecdotes of his personal experiences and philosophy. He believed that there was economic content in the work ethic and that by working harder a general benefit would be obtained, differing from the neoclassical theory paradigm. In regards to the subjectivism present in his work on public debt, he claims to have come to that understanding independently, though the reading of F.A. Hayek, reinforced his thinking. Also, he comments that working in rather small and less academically acknowledged universities, allowed him to independently develop his own ideas and not be influenced by established structures of thinkers, consequently, that gave him more freedom to follow his intellectual pursuits. As the conversation ends, Buchanan analyzes his particular interest in what will happen when he is no longer alive, and concludes by stating that the spirit of classical liberalism provides meaning to lives and it has to be constantly motivated so it can transcend mortality.
A Conversation with James M. Buchanan (Part II)
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
Index: Juan Diego Vizcaíno; synopsis and content reviser: Sofía Díaz
Selected quotes, questions and external links: Amy M. Willis, Liberty Fund Fellow
This 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 (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.
Last update: 07/01/2013
Selected Quotes from James M. Buchanan
"If I work harder, that has to provide a benefit in general…We're in a better world where people work hard."
"And then the 1960s happened…A lot of these institutions of order that I had taken for granted were stable turned out to be very fragile."
"I needed to write the Buchanan version of Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom or Hayek's Constitution of Liberty…I couldn’t write it."
"Federalism is an absolute requisite for maintaining any sort of liberty."
"I've learned the hard way that my best performance as well as my contribution is higher if I go to places that are in the boondocks."
"I come from a place just like this, and if I can get a Nobel prize, you can get a Nobel prize."
"The Swedes do know how to put on a show!"
"I have very little interest in saving the world."
"The payoff to academic scholarship generally is long-term."
"I've always been sort of congenitally in opposition to the gross inequality of opportunity that is provided by inherited wealth."
"It's not the man who's giving money away that I want to coerce, it's the man who's getting it."
"I live as long as those ideas live."
The Work Ethic
What is the economic content embedded in the work ethic, and why is mainstream economic theory insufficient in explaining this?
How does Buchanan describe Hayek's influence, particularly on his Cost and Choice?
Explorations in Anarchy
Describe the factors that led to Buchanan's interest in formally exploring anarchy.
How did Buchanan's thought change during this time period? To what extent ought Buchanan be regarded as an anarchist?
How important is a federal structure to liberty, according to Buchanan? The right to secede?
Brennan notes the capacity of people to move as an important element of federalism. To what extent does Buchanan agree? How does he feel about open borders?
The Relatively Absolute Absolute
What is the "relatively absolute absolute," and why does Buchanan say he couldn't live without it?
The Commons as a Metaphor for the Political Process
How does Buchanan employ the metaphor of the commons in describing the political process? How does this differ from the orthodox study of politics?
A Career in the Boondocks
What are the positives and negatives Buchanan ascribes to his career spent largely outside the highprofile American academic environment?
On Geography and Wealth
Buchanan claims that had he been born in the United Kingdom, he would have been a socialist. To what extent does where you live dictate or influence your ideological position?
What sort of discrimination did Buchanan face during his military career, and how did this influence his later views?
For what reasons does Buchanan maintain antipathy toward inherited wealth? To what extent do you agree with his ideas?
Is the Whole Thing Absurd?
What sort of "continuing tribe" does Buchanan see himself as belonging to, and what is the significance of this tribe's mortality?
How would you answer the question, "Is the whole thing absurd?"
• Kirzner's The Collected Works of James Buchanan
- Buchanan, Cost and Choice
- Buchanan, The Limits of Liberty
• Liberty Matters, the Online Library of Liberty, James Buchanan: An Assessment
• The Best of the Online Library of Liberty, "James M. Buchanan, 'The Threat of Leviathan' (1975)
• James Buchanan, "The Constitution of Economic Policy," Nobel lecture
• EconLib College Economics Topics, "Opportunity Cost"
Entries from the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics
• James Buchanan biography
• Public Choice, by William Shughart
• Opportunity Cost, by David Henderson
• Tragedy of the Commons, by Garrett Hardin
• Pete Boettke on Living Economics
• Epstein on the Constitution
• Epstein on The Economics of Organ Donations
• Peter Boettke, Why Read the Classics in Economics?
• Russ Roberts, Getting the Most Out of Life: The Concept of Opportunity Cost
• Kling, Michael Huemer's Challenge to the Legitimacy of Government
• Kathryn Shelton and Richard McKenzie, How Free-Market Kidney Sales Can Save Lives- And Lower the Total Cost of Kidney Transplants
• Alex Tabarrok, Life-Saving Incentives: Consequences, Costs and Solutions to the Organ Shortage