≡ Menu

Celebrating James M. Buchanan

In my latest column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I celebrate the scholarship and genuine liberalism of my late Nobel-laureate colleague, Jim Buchanan, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth. A slice:

Jim is best known for showing that we can better understand political outcomes when we examine these using the same tools that economists employ to get a better understanding of private markets. Individuals acting politically as voters, politicians and bureaucrats are no less (or more) self-interested and prone to error than are individuals acting privately as consumers, entrepreneurs and workers.

Stated so straightforwardly, this Madisonian insight from Jim seems trite. But economists and political scientists were surprisingly reluctant to use it in their work. A shocking amount of social-science research was done on the unstated assumption that Madison was wrong to warn that government is not run by angels.