James M. Buchanan

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James Buchanan, 2010.

James McGill Buchanan, Jr. (3 October 19199 January 2013) was an American economist known for his work on public choice theory, who was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Economics.

See Also
The Calculus of Consent
Democracy in Deficit


  • I did not call him "Fritz." To me he remained always "Professor Hayek," despite his own graciousness in treating me as a peer. I shall not attempt to evaluate Professor Hayek's monumental contribution to our understanding of the events of this turbulent century, to the influence of his ideas on these events themselves or even to the development of economic theory in a strictly scientific sense.
    • "I did not call him “Fritz”: Personal recollections of Professor F. A. v. Hayek." Constitutional Political Economy 3.2 (1992): 129-135.
  • Well, we haven’t learnt yet to live together peacefully... But I don’t know what progress really means. Anyway, I think we need to have faith in the fact that there is more out there to be explained. Even the paradigms that we now have, including subjective value theory, for example, are only provisional. Some physicist might believe that ultimately, we will be able to explain everything. To me, that is utterly stupid, just like saying that an atheist is equally dogmatic as a Texas Baptist. It seems to me that, if you accept evolution, you can still not expect your dog to get up and start talking German. And that’s because your dog is not genetically programmed to do that. We are human animals, and we are equally bound. There are whole realms of discourse out there that we cannot reach, by definition. There are always going to be limits beyond which we cannot go. Knowing that they are there, you can always hope to move a little closer – but that’s all.
    • In: Karen Ilse Horn (ed.) Roads to Wisdom, Conversations With Ten Nobel Laureates in Economics (2009)

The Calculus of Consent (1962)[edit]

Democracy in Deficit: The Political Legacy of Lord Keynes (1977)[edit]

Main article: Democracy in Deficit

In What Should Economists Do? (1979)[edit]

  • Economics is the study of the whole system of exchange relationships. Politics is the study of the whole system of coercive or potentially coercive relationships.
    • p. 34

Public Choice: The Origins and Development of a Research Program (2003)[edit]

"Public Choice: The Origins and Development of a Research Program", Center for Study of Public Choice at George Mason University (2003)

  • The hard core in public choice can be summarized in three presuppositions: (1) methodological individualism, (2) rational choice, and (3) politics-as-exchange.
  • A version of the old fable about the king's nakedness may be helpful here. Public choice is like the small boy who said that the king really has no clothes. Once he said this, everyone recognized that the king's nakedness had been recognized, but that no-one had really called attention to this fact.

Quotes about Buchanan[edit]

  • In short, if Buchanan's argument was that liberal demands for an ever expanding welfare state would lead to chronic deficits, history has shown him to be wrong. If the argument is that the desire for tax cuts and increased military spending, coupled with macroeconomic mismanagement, could lead to large deficits, there is a strong case.
  • Unlike Kenneth J. Arrow or Robert M. Solow, Buchanan is not a puzzle solver, but rather a system builder, someone who has come up with a whole new paradigm, an innovative way of looking at the world in general and at politics or collective choice in particular (see Horn, 2009, pp. 85–90.) As mentioned, the roots of this are to be found largely in his personal background and his experience and cultural inheritance as a Southerner. From the outset, what interested him more than anything else was how it is possible for people to live in society without infringing on each other’s rights.
    • Karen Horn, "James M. Buchanan – Doing away with discrimination and domination", Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 80 (2011)
  • Buchanan’s work changed political economy in fundamental ways. Thanks to him and his colleagues, three things are true: No one who wishes to talk responsibly about politics can be ignorant of public choice theory. No one should ever invoke the language of market failure (including externalities) without having digested his work on government failure. And people who run around talking about the constitution better be able to understand something of his contributions to constitutional political economy.
  • The basic concern of Buchanan (e.g. Buchanan, 1975) is to deny that a libertarian position requires the making of ethical judgments of the kind made by social philosophers who 'play God'. ... It follows that liberalism is about determination of the 'correct' contractual procedures which will allow individuals to consent to intervention by government. That procedure, if it is to be compatible with an individualist position, requires, so far as is practically possible, unanimous consent. Therefore, the common procedure used by economists to identify a social welfare function which is then to be 'maximized' implicitly rejects the individualistic decision-making process, which is the only mechanism through which individuals both express preferences and have them acted upon. To claim that preferences can be revealed and acted upon by governments, unencumbered by individuals' consent, is to presuppose that they and their officials will always act in an enlightened and wholly disinterested way. It is a curious paradox that, in the light of Buchanan's distaste for Keynesian elitism (see Buchanan, 1991), there are elements in Keynes's rather fragmentary thinking on political matters which express a sympathy with an individualistic stance.
    • Alan T. Peacock, "Keynes and the role of the State", IV. Keynes As an End State Liberal
  • His great mind is now still, but he lives on in the ideas he passed on to his students, colleagues, and friends. It has been said that only poets and songwriters are immortal, but as an economist, Jim’s work surely approaches immortality because it will continue to be read and discussed throughout time to come. We still read Adam Smith (at least some of us), and it is a good bet that over 200 years from now, young scholars will pore over Jim’s articles and books in search of ideas, insights, and inspiration. This may not be an eternity, but it is a very long half-life. Better yet, maybe some future political generation will see fit to put our fiscal house in order and in so doing pay homage to our memory of Jim Buchanan. Rest in peace.
    • Robert D. Tollison, "James M. Buchanan: In Memoriam", Southern Economic Journal, 2013, 80(1), 1–4

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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