… is from the late Clemson University (and GMU) economist Bob Tollison:
We’re all part of the equilibrium.
With this short observation, Bob meant to cheer scholars who cannot perceive the consequences of their work on public policy and law. These few words – which I heard Bob say verbally several times in his distinctive and warm South Carolina accent – are an economist’s economist’s way of saying to scholars whose work he admired ‘No matter how bad things might be, they’d be worse if you hadn’t done what you do. Although you might not realize it, your good work at least helps to keep things from being even worse and just might, one day, be part of the impetus that makes for positive improvement.’
Bob died suddenly this morning in Clemson. He was 74. Bob was one of the most prolific economists of his generation. His special genius was in using basic economic principles to formulate empirically testable hypotheses about political decision-making and about the formation of, and changes in, political institutions. His 1982 essay in Kyklos – “Rent Seeking: A Survey” – remains one of the best articles of its kind that I’ve ever read, for not only did Bob there fully and impressively survey and summarize the rent-seeking literature as it stood in the early 1980s, he also, in that same article, pointed productively to new avenues for further research.
No political act, no collective arrangement, no historical development that caught Bob’s capacious attention escaped Bob’s remarkable capacity to identify that act’s or that arrangement’s or that development’s likely material gainers and likely material losers. I never met anyone who was as completely inoculated against the romance of politics as was Bob Tollison.
Bob – being then at GMU and a close friend and former colleague of (and co-author with) my dissertation advisor, Bob Ekelund – was instrumental in helping me to land my first faculty position (at George Mason Econ in 1985). I likely never thanked him adequately for that help.
Bob will be missed mightily by many, including me, for he was an especially big part of the equilibrium.