Remembering James Buchanan

by Don Boudreaux on September 26, 2019

in Economics, Virginia Political Economy

October 3rd, 2019 – one week from today – will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of my late GMU Econ colleague, and 1986 Nobel laureate economist, Jim Buchanan. Despite the libelous falsehoods told about Buchanan by the “historian” Nancy MacLean, Jim was a thoroughgoing classical liberal and a profoundly important social philosopher.

Jim Buchanan was one of the greatest economists of all time. Yet his work remains under-appreciated and too little read, even by professional economists.

Veronique de Rugy and I remember Jim in this piece published today by AIER. A slice:

Yet despite the best efforts of Madison & Co., the constitutional constraints they fashioned were whittled away by the Progressive ideology that took root in the early 20th century and reached full bloom during the New Deal. The result is what Buchanan called “constitution anarchy,” under which people “feel themselves at the mercy of a faceless bureaucracy, itself irresponsible and subject to unpredictable twists and turns that destroy and distort personal and private expectations.”

It’s not enough, Buchanan insisted, that the franchise be wide and elections fair and regular. In addition, those with political power must be bound by enforceable rules to avoid doling out favors and responding to the passions du jour.

Imagine what candidates’ debates would be like if any of them paused to ask if authorization to impose a wealth tax or grant free college tuition and Medicare-for-All is found in the Constitution.

James Buchanan spent much of his illustrious career arguing for a restoration of constitutional order, warning that “‘constitutional’ must be placed in front of ‘democracy’ if the political equality of individuals is to be translated with any meaningful measure of freedom and autonomy. The tyranny of the majority is no less real than any other, and, indeed, it may be more dangerous because it feeds on the idealistic illusion that participation is all that matters.”

Although today unheeded, let’s hope that Buchanan’s counsel triumphs soon.


Add a Comment    Share Share    Print    Email

Previous post:

Next post: