Bryan Caplan  

Two Tullock Stories

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Here are my two favorite Gordon Tullock stories, filtered through my admittedly imperfect memory.

Story #1

It's the summer of 1993.  Gordon Tullock gives a guest seminar for interns at the Institute for Humane Studies.  A random democratic failure comes up, and one of the interns suggests James Buchanan's favorite panacea: "Change the constitution." 

I guardedly (yes, guardedly) say: "With all due respect to Professor Tullock, I can't understand why we should expect constitutional politics to work any less badly than day-to-day politics."

Tullock doesn't skip a beat.  "You're right, of course.  I've never been able to figure out why Jim thinks otherwise.  Next question."

[To be fair, Jim does have a drawn-out Veil of Ignorance argument for his view, but it's contrived and implausible - as he once all but admitted.]

Story #2

Fast forward to the early 2000s.  Both Tullock and I are now professors at GMU.  As you may have heard, Tullock often expressed affection with bizarre insults.  After six months, he had yet to speak a word against me.  I naturally start to wonder if he dislikes me.  All doubt vanishes, though, during a post-seminar dinner with me, Tullock, and Donald Wittman.  Tullock is recounting one of his many lessons on Chinese history, ending with, "Chiang Kai-shek was a butcher, but he wasn't as bad as Hitler or Stalin."

Then Tullock stares right at me and says, "You're as bad as Hitler or Stalin.  But not Chiang Kai-shek."

I furrow my brow, then remember that for Tullock, the greater and more random the insult, the deeper the affection.  I can't recall if I actually said or merely thought, "I love you, too, Gordon."

And if this makes no sense to you, you didn't know Tullock!


Comments and Sharing






COMMENTS (5 to date)
Mark writes:

When I was a grad student, Tullock would often stop by an office I shared with others and graciously ask if I wanted to go to lunch. I replied, "Yes. Where do you want to go?" to which he typically replied, "Why don't you list the places you'll go and the rest of us will go elsewhere."

Bostonian writes:

Just because someone was brilliant doesn't mean they were not nasty or that their nastiness should be reinterpreted as somehow endearing. Tullock sounds like a foul person to me.

Mark writes:

Bostonian -- I have to agree he sounds like someone I wouldn't want to know. But both Bryan and David have talked about him with affection, so it seems he pulled it off without creating distaste in his victims. Perhaps it was clear to his recipients that none of it was said with hostility? I have traded insults with people, with both sides knowing it was in fun.

Duncan Earley writes:

I assume he was comparing you to Hilter and Stalin because you all hold your beliefs very deeply?

Malcolm Kirkpatrick writes:

This illustrates a problem with hate speech regulation. In general, an insult will mean one of four things: (1) (to an individual): "I don't like you and I want you to know that", (2) (to a group of friends): "I don't like him and I want you to join me in making his life miserable", (3) (to an individual): "I really like you and I will demonstrate this by calling you a dirty name that only a friend could get away with using", (4) (to a group of friends): "I really like him and I want you to join me in approving him".

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