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Bio of Gordon Tullock

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Guest blogger Art Carden posted yesterday on the late Gordon Tullock. In the next few days, the biography of Gordon Tullock for The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics will be posted on line.

Some excerpts follow.

First, where Tullock fits in the pantheon of economists in the last half of the 20th century:

Gordon Tullock, along with his colleague James M. Buchanan, was a founder of the School of Public Choice. Among his contributions to public choice were his study of bureaucracy, his early insights on rent seeking, his study of political revolutions, his analysis of dictatorships, and his analysis of incentives and outcomes in foreign policy. Tullock also contributed to the study of optimal organization of research, was a strong critic of common law, and did work on evolutionary biology. He was arguably one of the ten or so most influential economists of the last half of the twentieth century. Many economists believe that Tullock deserved to share Buchanan's 1986 Nobel Prize or even deserved a Nobel Prize on his own.

Next, Buchanan's and Tullock's very different styles of learning:
Buchanan noted in his reminiscence that Tullock's "fascinating analysis" was "almost totally buried in an irritating personal narrative account of Tullock's nine-year experience in the foreign service hierarchy." Buchanan continued: "Then, as now, Tullock's work was marked by his apparent inability to separate analytical exposition from personal anecdote." Translation: Tullock learned from his experiences. As a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. State Department for nine years Tullock learned, up close and "personal," how dysfunctional bureaucracy can be.

And something that I've found that even many fans of Tullock and of public choice are not familiar with--Tullock's insights on foreign policy:
Tullock was one of the few public choice economists to apply his tools to foreign policy. In Open Secrets of American Foreign Policy, he takes a hard-headed look at U.S. foreign policy rather than the romantic "the United States is the good guys" view that so many Americans take. For example, he wrote of the U.S. government's bombing of Serbia under President Bill Clinton:

[T]he bombing campaign was a clear-cut violation of the United Nations Charter and hence, should be regarded as a war crime. It involved the use of military forces without the sanction of the Security Council and without any colorable claim of self-defense. Of course, it was not a first--we [the U.S. government] had done the same thing in Vietnam, Grenada and Panama.

P.S. Thanks to Edward Lopez and Tyler Cowen for comments on various drafts.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (1 to date)
Jon Murphy writes:

I look forward to this. Tullock is a major influence on me and my work. His insights are invaluable. I loved his book The Logic of the Law; while I ultimately disagree with his conclusions, the book gave me a lot to think about.

Tullock just had good, clean reasoning and while he could be a bit clunky, his articles are highly insightful.


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