Gordon Tullock, R.I.P.

tullockEconomist Gordon Tullock died yesterday at the age of 92. I met him when I occasionally sat in on seminars at the Public Choice Center at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 1978. That Center offered a fresh perspective that explained why government interventions go awry and why government itself is often the most powerful special interest. Public Choice economists recognized that market imperfections did not automatically spawn omniscient bureaucrats.

Tullock’s The Politics of Bureaucracy and The Logic of the Law helped me get a handle on the incorrigible nature of Leviathan and how the legal playing field is stacked against private citizens. When I mentioned to him that I had enjoyed those books, he asked if I had relied on library copies; I said yes – and he told me I owed him $5. Tullock was definitely more approachable than some other professors with the Public Choice Center.

I stumbled upon Public Choice writings after having immersed in Friedrich Hayek and other Austrian economists and political thinkers. Tullock and other Public Choice economists provided practical handles on public policy issues that I had not acquired from Hayek. The Public Choice school moved beyond a rote championing of free markets with which some economists sufficed. I was never fetched by the mathematical models used in some of Tullock’s writings co-authored with James Buchanan. Tullock’s writing style was far superior to most economists; at his best, he wrote as well as George Stigler.

I recall watching Tullock spar with David Friedman, who had joined the VT Economics Dept. a year or two earlier. Paul Craig Roberts, then working for Sen. Orrin Hatch, made an excellent presentation one afternoon on the noxiousness of some labor union-backed legislation championed by the Carter administration. If memory serves, Tullock asked him about six dozen questions – not quite heckling, but helping make the seminar far more entertaining and informative.

Since he had perennially scoffed at the notion that voting is worthwhile, it is ironic that he cashed in his chips on Election Day. But since he was living in Illinois at the time of his death, he probably voted anyhow.


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  1. Gordon Tullock, RIP | Pileus - November 5, 2014

    […] Tullock, one of the leading figures in Public Choice, died yesterday at the age of 92. As James Bovard notes: “Since he had perennially scoffed at the notion that voting is worthwhile, it is […]