Academic journal article Independent Review

Gordon Tullock's Scholarly Legacy: Extracting It from Buchanan's Shadow

Academic journal article Independent Review

Gordon Tullock's Scholarly Legacy: Extracting It from Buchanan's Shadow

Article excerpt

Thinking was Gordon Tullock's main interest in life. He let his thinking roam widely and creatively over his many fields of interest; moreover, Tullock is widely recognized for the robust and creative quality of this thought. He left a valuable legacy. All the same, I think the value of that legacy is underappreciated. Too much of Tullock is perceived as residing within the shadow of James Buchanan's constitutional thinking, with Tullock supplying the homo economicus to complement Buchanan's broader constitutional concerns. To the contrary, I would describe Tullock and Buchanan as resembling divergent parabolas who point analytically in opposing directions, despite their common point of origin in the high value they place on individual liberty. Both were social theorists, with their divergent research programs constituting a yin and yang of liberal political economy. Tullock, however, unlike Buchanan, never created an overview of his research program, leaving him to be perceived in significant measure as simply supplying the homo economicus needed to complement Buchanan's constitutional political economy. If Buchanan's oeuvre is regarded as an intellectual cathedral, I would aver that Tullock's oeuvre is generally regarded as a flying buttress in Buchanan's cathedral. But I believe that Tullock's oeuvre likewise constitutes a cathedral.

Even though Tullock came to publish increasingly without Buchanan after 1970 or so, the bulk of his work seemed to entail trituration of the homo economicus theme after the fashion of George Stigler and Gary S. Becker (1977). Without doubt, Tullock theorized in terms of people seeking to make the best of the situations they faced. His incessant use of homo economicus, however, failed to capture what he was truly about. Tullock was an empirically oriented theorist after the fashion of Frank Knight, as exemplified by Ross Emmett's (2006) contrast between Knight and Stigler-Becker. Examination of Tullock's oeuvre shows that he was not a theorist of rational choice. To the contrary, he was a social theorist whose work focused on the eternal human predicament that social life entails. Sure, all societies are inhabited by people who try to do the best they can as they understand their situations. This recognition, however, does not make a person a rational-choice theorist. Tullock's thinking recognized that societies are rife with emergent phenomena that arise through interaction. His work centered on human interactions within society, not on rational choice per se. Tullock was more than the "natural economist" that Buchanan (1987) described him as being. Tullock was a social theorist who never articulated his social theory, even though that theory is present throughout his oeuvre. Furthermore, his social theory diverges in significant ways from Buchanan's.

In a paper I wrote for a festschrift in Tullock's honor (Rowley 1987), I noted that Tullock's publications relate to matters treated by departments of political science, public administration, biology, philosophy, sociology, history, and military science. His publications also contribute to matters of interest to faculties in schools of law and criminology, as well as to faculties associated with interdisciplinary programs in international relations and Asiatic studies. All of this is in addition to his contributions to fields more narrowly economic. Someone writing a survey of Tullock's works would surely think he w as surveying the work of the faculty of a small university. (Wagner 1987a, 33-34, emphasis added)

The high value of Tullock's large body of work is attested to by his being named a Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association in 1997, in addition to being honored by other professional associations. It is also attested to by the large volume of citations to many pieces of his body of work. Tullock's original paper on rent seeking (Tullock 1967) has been cited more than four thousand times, and his follow-up paper on efficient rent seeking (Tullock 1980) has been cited more than three thousand times. …

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