Gordon Tullock

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Gordon Tullock (February 13, 1922November 3, 2014) was an economist and retired Professor of Law and Economics at the George Mason University School of Law.

See Also
The Calculus of Consent


  • Clearly the present organization of the scientific community, cutting across the lines of nation states, bureaus, and almost all previously existing institutions, cannot be the result of conscious planning. There is, today, a good deal of organizational planning, but all of the instrumentalities which engage in this activity were founded after the development of science was well under way. Further, most of these organizations are parochial in nature, concerning themselves with only some special part of the scientific community like mathematical biophysics or Russian science. There is no general institution which has shaped or now can shape the development of science, only a mass of institutions which provide little more than liaison (and sometimes funds) for the scientific “producers.”
    • The Organization of Inquiry (1966) Ch 1. The Social Organization of Science
  • Today we have great laboratories and individual research projects employing thousands of scientists, but the interrelation between these giant laboratories, and between them and the myriad of individual investigators, is still one of voluntary, and almost unconscious, co-operation. It is not based on central planning or hierarchic organization. But as any economist knows, the fact that there is no one who can give commands does not mean that there is no social organization.
    • The Organization of Inquiry (1966) Ch 1. The Social Organization of Science
  • A government does not, in general, just go about the world doing good. It has to be pushed into it.
    • "Rent Seeking: The Problem of Definition"
  • What is important will be manipulated by the government.
    • Tullock challenges: happiness, revolutions, and democracy
  • The dominant form of government in the world today is dictatorship. Further throughout history, dictatorship has been the commonest form of government, indeed, for much of history the only form of government in the world.
    • "Industrial Organization and Rent Seeking in Dictatorships"
  • The modern state is largely a mechanism for transferring funds from one person to another. What we economists call public goods are provided by the state but are now only a part of it. The United States is not as far along in this procedure as many other countries, but in our case the federal government pays out in various types of transfers a significant percent of the amount it collects in taxes. Most of the European countries are even more dominated by the legacy of Bismarck.
    • Public Goods, Redistribution and Rent Seeking (2005), Ch. 5 The legacy of Bismarck

Quotes about Tullock[edit]

  • Buchanan and Tullock went on to apply the customary neoclassical hypothesis of individual rational utility maximization to the whole area of collective choice. One of their novel assumptions, and one that was truly revolutionary in those days, was the idea that politicians and bureaucrats do not necessarily behave as “benevolent dictators” on behalf of the public interest, but rather display the common kind of purposive behavior. They pursue their own interests and they react to incentives just like anybody else. In this landmark study, Buchanan and Tullock also draw a crucial distinction between two different levels of collective decision making, namely the constitutional level and the level of ordinary, day-to-day politics. All of this defines the paradigm they would later apply to almost every field of public economics.
    • Karen Horn, "James M. Buchanan – Doing away with discrimination and domination", Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 80 (2011)
  • Gordon Tullock, on the other hand, might be characterized as the somewhat cynical pragmatist, who set out to understand the world, not to change it. This side of Tullock is visible in his early paper on simple majority rule, and is perhaps most apparent in his work on rent seeking. These differences should not be pushed too far, however. Buchanan (1980) also contributed to the rent-seeking literature, and often has described public choice as “politics without romance.” One of the most dispiriting contributions to the public choice literature has to be Kenneth Arrow’s (1951) famous impossibility theorem. In a too little appreciated article, Tullock (1967b) demonstrated with the help of a somewhat torturous geometrical analysis, that the cycling that underlies the impossibility theorem is likely to be constrained to a rather small subset of Pareto-optimal outcomes, and thus Arrow’s theorem was “irrelevant,” a rather happy result, and one which anticipated work appearing more than a decade later on the uncovered set. In Chap. 10 of Toward a Mathematics of Politics, Tullock (1967a) engages in a bit of wishful thinking about constitutional design by describing how one could achieve an ideal form of proportional representation in a legislative body. He also was an early enthusiast of the potential for using a demand-revelation process to reveal individual preferences for public goods (Tideman and Tullock 1976).
  • Call me a masochist but one of the great pleasures of being at George Mason is that I am regularly insulted by Gordon Tullock. You have to understand, however, that in my profession not to have been insulted by Gordon is to be a nobody.
    In anycase, here is one from yesterday.
    "Gordon," I asked, "do you think we should ban child labor?" "No, keep working."
    The other day Gordon asked me to read one of his papers and I pointed out a few typos. "Excellent," he said, "this will surely be your greatest contribution to economics."
    Gordon is prone to pressing people with difficult questions. One of my colleagues responded, "Gordon, I’m not that good at thinking on my feet." Without missing a beat Gordon pulled up a chair and said "well sit down and we’ll see how you do then."

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