Gordon Tullock, who retired last August from GMU, was back on GMU's campus today — visiting from his home in Tucson with his lovely sister Mary Lou and his brother-in-law Bob — to discuss economics with our students. What a treat!
At 87 Gordon's mind is as sharp as ever. No scholar has done more than Gordon to disabuse people of any romantic or religious notions that they might have about the nature of government. Gordon did this disabusing, along with Jim Buchanan and other public-choice scholars, with world-class scholarship. His ten-volume Selected Works are a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the nature of government — and a must-avoid for anyone interested in maintaining his or her faith in politicians' goodness or specialness, or any faith in the capacity, or even the willingness, of government officials to work together to make people generally, rather than just politicians and interest-groups, better off.
Among the most important of Gordon's insights are
- his demonstration that good political decisions are public-goods no less than are the public-goods that allegedly are provided in only sub-optimal quantities on private markets;
- his demonstration that people and institutions spend resources in socially (if not privately) wasteful ways seeking privileges from government;
- his demonstration that there is nothing at all special about majority rule as a means of arriving at collective decisions; that is, a supermajority rule is at least as likely — and, probably, more likely — to maximize welfare over time than is a rule of simple majority.
I've always believed that, if there were such a phenomenon as reincarnation, that Gordon must be the present embodiment of Jeremy Bentham — a mind brilliantly creative, bowing to no dogmas; a yearning (a bit too eager for my taste) to re-engineer legal institutions; an absolute inability to see the world romantically; and a capacity for work that embarrasses us mere mortals.
No economist still living deserves the Nobel Prize in Economics more than does Gordon — and only Armen Alchian deserves it as much. It's a damn shame that neither Gordon nor Alchian has yet received this award.