A REPORT TO THE COMMITTEE ON THE NOBEL PRIZE IN ECONOMIC
SCIENCE, 1985: THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF JAMES M. BUCHANAN TO
ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL ECONOMY
Thomas E. Borcherding*
Buchanan’s contributions through 1984 are surveyed in six areas: (A) debt, fiscal illusion, and
Keynesian criticisms, (B) London School of Economics cost approach, (C) methodological
individualism and the economics of politics, (D) welfare price theory, (E) rent-seeking and polity
failure, and (F) political economy and constitutions. A comprehensive bibliography of ten books,
four monographs, forty-three refereed articles, thirty essays in books, ten short papers, thirty-three
papers in collected works, and a translation is offered.
*Professor of Economic and Politics, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA. 91711-6165.
His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He wishes to thank his research assistant Portia
DiGiovanni Besocke, a PhD candidate in Economics at Claremont Graduate University, for help in
accurately reproducing the original report. Borcherding is wholly responsible for any misinterpretations or
working papers in economics
Claremont Graduate University • Claremont Institute for Economic
Policy Studies • Claremont McKenna College • Drucker Graduate
School of Management • Harvey Mudd College • Lowe Institute •
Pitzer College • Pomona College • Scripps College
A Note to the Reader
A version of this report was given November 25, 1985 as a paper on a Southern Economic
Association (SEA) panel in Dallas devoted to the contributions of James M. Buchanan to economics,
politics, and moral philosophy. When SEA president-elect Bill Breit solicited this paper, I readily
agreed since, in fact, the essay was already written early in 1985 in the form of a confidential report to
the Nobel Prize in Economic Science Committee. I was not permitted to reveal this at the SEA
meetings, but with Buchanan’s Noble Prize award in fall 1986 that constraint was removed. Thus,
this paper is offered as an historical document1.
The reader should note that the report does not cover the period 1985 to the present. Such an
updating would have required a much longer paper, and one that would not have changed the tenor
of my analysis, which holds that Buchanan’s life’s work—besides creating a field along with several
able colleagues who founded the Public Choice Society—has centered around a very simple but
profound intellectual program: to wit, institutions matter in shaping social behavior. Buchanan
argues that not only do institutions shape human behavior in markets, politics, and in social life, but
more importantly they evolve in predictable ways as key exogenous variables such as factor supply,
information and technology, law and constitutional life, and social attitudes change. This
neoinstitutionalist perspective is as prevalent in Buchanan’s writings before 1985 as after.
Finally, before I reveal the original Nobel report, let me offer my good wishes to James Buchanan for
more decades of productive life, and continued honor from several academic professions that would
be the poorer without his prolific and original insights.
1 Minor changes from the original have been made to correct various citation and, alas, stylistic and
This is not the first review of the work of James Buchanan, nor probably the last. Mueller (1981) and
Locksley (1981) offered two admirable interpretative, but narrow, essays, and Blaug (1971) has
written a short biography with a soupçon of criticism. That leaves me some maneuvering room and
one in which I will present as subjective a critique as I dare, with the accompanying hope that I will
treat issues in a slightly different manner than those aforementioned authors.
Before I commence perhaps I should say a bit about my own credentials, else the reader may
question my scrutiny of that massive list at the paper’s end, the “Key Works of James. M.
Buchanan2.” I was, as the reader should know, an unofficial student of Buchanan. In spring 1962 I
was introduced to his writings by my advisor David Davies in a Duke graduate seminar on public
finance and his works featured in my thesis written in 1963-1965. In 1965-1966, I was a Thomas
Jefferson Center post-doctoral fellow at University of Virginia and studied under Buchanan.
Between 1971 and 1973, I served with him as a colleague on the faculty at Virginia Polytechnic
Below, I have broken Buchanan’s voluminous work into six areas, but the reader is forewarned that I
have not devoted a separate part to examine his contributions to moral philosophy because of my
own limitations in that area. Nonetheless, I have briefly alluded to his contributions in this area in
the last area surveyed on constitutional economics, a topic which Buchanan- following David Hume
and Adam Smith- sees as closely related to moral philosophy. Following this descriptive-
interpretative section is a short set of conclusions.
2 Selection of “Key Works” was based entirely upon my judgment.
2. EVALUATIONS OF BUCHANAN’S WRITINGS
A. Debt, Fiscal Illusion and Keynesian Criticisms
Buchanan is a sort of Keynesian, though I doubt he would accept this title. In his writings on debt
(B1, B5, B8, B9, M2, M3, A35, A39, C5, C6, C10, S4, S8) he clearly indicates a disbelief in the
Ricardian equivalence theorem, i.e., the view that voters perceive the burden of the public debt as a
claim on future taxes. This and his belief in “tax illusions” (B3, B9, C3, C11, C18, C27, S1, O4) place
him among the severe skeptics about the role that rational expectations play in politics. Here he is at
the opposite end of the spectrum from Robert Barro (1978) who holds (but offers exceedingly flimsy
evidence) that government debt is just an efficient means of spreading public sector costs over time,
lowering the real costs of fiscal actions in the process. To Barro public debt is just another tax
instrument in the optimal taxation process.
I find about half of Buchanan’s writing on debt unhelpful. Although he spends many pages
distinguishing objective costs (the putative social cost) from subjective costs (what the voter “feels”),
I glean no operational delineation of these early exercises, and, worse yet, I find myself confused by
them. I have noted, however, that in recent years with his joining forces with Richard Wagner (M2,
O4) he seems to be taking a very sensible (and potentially operational) position that the “veil of
ignorance” in politics is difficult for the average citizen (or marginal voter) to pierce and debt can
make informed choice difficult. Here Buchanan is quite Downsian, arguing that there is ample room
for bias in voter ignorance, because political entrepreneurs have incentives to make tax-costs look
small relative to expenditure-gains. This fraud is accentuated by the short time-horizons of the
politicians as well as voters’ (optimal) ignorance. George Stigler (1982) and Gary Becker (1976a,
1976b) seem to deny this putative principal-agent misallocation, but Buchanan is quite mainstream in
his belief that such asymmetries in information are part and parcel of public choice, a position in the
received wisdom of political economy from the time of Adam Smith.
Essentially, the usefulness of this deceitful vote-buying hypothesis hinges on empirics. I fear that
Buchanan’s contribution here is as much based on gut feeling as on the evidence, but Barro, Stigler,
and Becker offer nothing more. I believe, however, that Buchanan will be proven a bit correct and
this extreme New Chicago position somewhat wrong. For example, the political business cycle
literature seems to be indicating that political delusions can and do pay as long as they are both
infrequent and novel. I find it paradoxical, if not ironic, that strong-form, rational expectationist
Barro (with David Gordon 1983) has shown that the “last move” potential in government’s arsenal
of fiscal strategies, together with the unwillingness or inability of politicians to bind themselves to
prudent future course of action, makes for problems in constraining government. Thus, policy
instability emerges from this shaky principal-agent relationship- essentially, government policy is a
lemon’s problem. At the least, this indicates that utility of Buchanan’s call for a spending constraint
in the U.S. federal budget and balanced budgets as well as for the adoption of broad monetary rules
(B8, M3, M4, A42, C1, C16), a plea joined in by Old Chicagoan Milton Friedman and many others.
B. L.S.E. Cost Approach
Buchanan explores the notion of opportunity cost in several places: a careful and sadly neglected
short book (B5), in a little introduction (C2), and in several articles (C5, C11, C25, C27). He points
out that, strictly speaking, opportunity costs cannot be measured. If a chooser facing alternatives A
and B chooses A, its cost is the value of B foregone. Because B is not chosen, however, its costs are
not objectively ascertainable.
This point is well taken in a world of heterogeneous opportunity sets where choice sets are
discontinuous, non-repetitive, and unavailable under competitive conditions. Empirical economists
should read this work and take it to heart. Still, they may not be intellectual moved. The reason is
simple: if the chooser is typical, his valuation of a resource will be much like that of the market’s,
unless there are subjective and idiosyncratic benefits or costs. A world of brisk exchange with
arbitrage insures that perceived or subjective non-idiosyncratic costs equal or approximate the
It is where markets fail to reflect marginal use value because of high transactions costs that subjective
costs are important. Buchanan thinks, again no empirical evidence is offered, that much of human
activity is of this sort. Because of this he is more an Austrian in methodology than he is a Chicago
School man, though his Ph.D. degree is from that institution and for ideological reasons he is often
associated with the latter group. Thus, for all intents, Buchanan is a skeptic towards the
econometrician as an advisor to the politician. Simply put, he holds that one cannot measure cost
because the relevant numbers do not objectively exist, except under perfectly competitive and
repetitive circumstances. Clearly, many policy areas are outside such market congenial situations.
Such a revolutionary view enjoys little support however, even among Buchanan’s many followers,
with the exception of small groups of neo-Austrians. My own feeling is that every average to good
economist should be persuaded to read Cost and Choice (B5) and every bad economist should be
persuaded to read something else.
C. Methodological Individualism3 and the Economics of Politics
Before Buchanan’s writing became generally known in the late 1950s, it was common to use the term
“state” as if such an organic unit of decision-making existed. Kenneth Arrow and he were leaders in
dispelling that erroneous paradigm, though for wholly different reasons (A6, A10) and never in any
sort of collaboration. From his earlier writings (B2, A1, A6, A7, A10, C1, C2, C3, O1) Buchanan has
3 Buchanan explores the concept of “methodological individualism,” first coined by Karl Popper, in depth in
articles collected in his Fiscal Theory and Political Economy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961).
See C1, C2, C3 and others reprinted in that volume.
argued that politics was essentially amenable to the same analysis as markets. Thus, individuals
organize politically into interest groups to seek their own individual, not social ends- though lately he
allows there is an indication that some degree of public-spiritedness may drive some public decision-
makers because of the moral constraint (A36, C29). Still, even here the focus is on the individual
interacting with a group.
Contrast this to the methodology of “holism” so characteristic of the English language writings
before the 1960s, which I term Victorian Welfare Economics. Following Alfred Marshall and A. C.
Pigou, this policy paradigm looks to a benign state, directed by selfless and competent technicians, to
solve serious matters of mis-coordination and the mal-distribution of income. Buchanan criticized
this as far back as 1949 in his first journal article (A1). Following in the intellectual footsteps of his
teacher Frank Knight (C9), he gave a theoretical structure to Knight’s views, while grafting them
onto those of Knut Wicksell, which he later translated as “A New Principle of Just Taxation,” (T1).
He also melded these views with the 19th and early 20th Century Italians who, along with Adam
Smith, Wicksell, and Knight, are his intellectual heroes (A3, C3). Had he never written more than
this, these several papers on methods Buchanan would have done as much as or more than any 20th
Century scholar to bring positive theory to bear upon political decisions.
To give a specific and more recent example of this leadership, I direct the reader to Buchanan’s
Southern Economic Association presidential address, “What Should Economist Do?” (A17), a useful
piece of sensible and original (adjectives not always joined at one go) instruction to our profession.
Because its message has so penetrated the current methodology and scope of economics, a young
economist who reads it today may find it obvious. In November 1963, when the speech was given at
the Hotel Roanoke in Roanoke, Virginia, I can assure the reader that the ideas were revolutionary. I
know. I was in the audience. His message was aimed at an intellectual world dominated by
methodological holism- the opposite of methodological individualism, social welfare functions,
golden age growth paths, and ad hoc consumption functions. I should add that because of the
power of his views some of Buchanan’s methodology papers are known to non-economist scholars
as well or better today than to economists (C7, C8).
D. Welfare Price Theory
Buchanan is an accomplished and creative price theorist, especially considering the time period that
most of his articles were written. His earliest effort, on quantity discounts (A5), indicated a keen
understanding of what sorts of institutions were characterized by price-taking and those that were
better understood by what is now called complex-contracting. This awareness of the difference
between price-taking and complex price-making is one to which all public finance persons of
erudition are introduced in his treatise, The Demand and Supply of Public Good (B4). Unfortunately, as I
read the Journal of Political Economy and Bell/Rand Journal of Economics today I see few citations to
Buchanan on these distinctions, but instead to younger mathematical theorists who had not the
slightest inkling of complex-contracting back in 1968. Alas, we soon forget.
There is another dimension of Buchanan’s work, however, that also is not recognized, but should be.
Along with Ronald Coase, he and Gordon Tullock popularized the notion of exchange and side-
payments in complex market and political processes (B2). Buchanan, then chairman of his
department at the University of Virginia and director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study
of Political Economy, gathered Coase and Tullock, (along with Warren Nutter and Leland Yeager) in
Charlottesville in the late 1950s and early 1960s. His 1961 paper (A12) on majority rule as well as his
1962 one (A14) on Paretian policy analysis used this Coasian approach and, in my opinion, Buchanan
and possible others in the Virginia School are, if not unacknowledged co-discoverers of the Coase
theorem, at least “complementary factors” in its production. I am fairly certain of this for as a post-
doctoral fellow at Virginia I had access to all the working paper series and perused many of them.
The Calculus of Consent appears to have begun as two separate and unpublished manuscripts—a Theory
of Entrepreneurial Politics (c. 1956) by Tullock and later his A General Theory of Politics (1958), as well as
some working papers of Buchanan’s later published articles (A6, A7). All of these had a Coasian
flavor and later paralleled Coase’s two enormous contributions (Coase 1959,1960) where the “Coase
theorem” took its original form.
Perhaps it does not really matter who exactly at Virginia in the late 1950s and early 1960s extended
our understanding of social interactions so dramatically. Buchanan et Cie. pushed the notion of
exchange to government, to the common law, to constitutions, and even to philosophy. If not a
scientific revolution, it certainly was a signal methodological advance. Anyone who read The Calculus
of Consent (B2) shortly after it was published knew he was reading a classic. I surely did as a graduate
student in 1962. It is still ranked among the most important books in politics and economics
(Downing and Stafford, 1981) in this century-for its positive analysis as well as for its normative and
historic doctrinal exercises (see especially The Calculus Appendix 1 by Buchanan and Appendix 2 by
Buchanan’s work on externality (A15), clubs (A20), joint supply (A22) and his work extending
Tiebout’s model (A26, C12) are classics, too. Also well known are his two earliest works on
federalism, mobility, and political competition (A2, A4), which are clear complements to another
acknowledged classic in public choice (Downing and Stafford, 1981), Charles Tiebout’s “A Pure
Theory of Local Expenditure.” Buchanan’s use of the common property model with Francisco
Forte (A10) in a public spending context is an early exercise in the dissipative costs of rent seeking
and common property. Even today he still shows virtuosity in price theory, drawing subtle
inferences about the world using comparative static’s embedded in extremely complex social
mechanisms (B9, A30, A38, A40)
In my opinion, Buchanan’s contributions are nearly on par with Stigler’s or Friedman’s price-theory.
Together they give support to what was always conceded in the North American academy in the
Fifties and Sixties: one may not have liked Chicago-UCLA-Virginia style policy analyses, but one had
to admire the ability of its practitioners to use simple price theory to get positive, non-intuitive, and,
above all else, non-trivial implications. Buchanan has contributed mightily to this reputation.
E. Rent-Seeking and Polity Failure
Neither Buchanan nor his long-term colleague Tullock invented the term “rent-seeking.” That
honor goes to Anne Krueger for her 1974 paper, “The Political Economy of the Rent-Seeking
Society.” Perhaps Shakespeare was right about the unimportance of names, since clearly the concept
of rent seeking is originally a Virginia School construct. Tullock explicitly offered the theory years
earlier in his “The Welfare Cost of Tariffs, Monopolies, and Theft” (1968). Still, years before that
Buchanan argued that government is an organization where individuals could as well get together to
rob their brethren as to seek the public weal (A1, A6, A7, A10, A12, A13, A14, C5). His skepticism
about treating transfers as Pigovian non-resource using spendings is in the mainstream today of
concerns in assessing the costs of transfers, but in the Fifties he was alone in this position4. He has
devoted a lifetime to delineating the circumstances that distinguish the possibility for productive as
opposed to dissipative policies and parsing out institutions that enhance the former and attenuate the
latter. In the 1950s, if one read Abram Bergson, Nicholas Kaldor, James Meade, Paul Samuelson,
Tibor Scitovsky, and other typical well-known welfare economists, one got a wholly different
impression of the state then one might today. The state, said these latter day Victorian welfare
economists, was a device to internalize the bads and supply the social goods. I think no reputable
4 In his undergraduate public economics textbook (B10), which I read as a college senior in 1961, Buchanan
clearly expresses his doubts that government transfer payments were truly costless transfers as Pigou suggested
(1947). Unfortunately, he did not flesh out this enough for me to understand at that time the rent-seeking
implications. I suspect he did not fully comprehend the enormity of his speculation at the time either.
economist would say that today. I believe this change in perspective is in no small measure because
of the work of Buchanan, his colleagues, and disciples.
More than the Chicago Scholars who in the 1950s and 1960s railed against government interventions,
Buchanan and his allies set out why government interventions were larded through with selfish and
partially destructive influences—the desires to redistribute income for personal gain5. This
prophylactic against romantic policy analysis caused the profession to look more carefully at public
institutions to see what mechanisms exist to internalize exchange within government operations and
which are essentially predatory or parasitic. Buchanan can be credited with taking the skepticism of
the American Federalist Papers and giving it a rich theoretic structure (Appendix 1, B2 and elsewhere
therein; B9). I believe that his current writings on the problem (B9, A43, O4, C26, O6) are less
debated today because at least part of his earlier message is so well understood. The question now is
how much rent-seeking accompanies the usual ‘triangular” measures of policy misallocation?
Unfortunately, professional preoccupation over post-constitutional policy analysis still displaces
attention away from pre-institutional issues, the area for serious debate. This dichotomy is explored
by Buchanan as by no other economist in this century save Friedrich Hayek, Knight, and Tullock and
is discussed in the next part of this section.
F. Political Economy and Constitutions
If Buchanan had never written anything more than The Calculus of Consent (B2), he and Tullock would
be forever enshrined as the leaders of modern public choice. The fact is his use of economic theory
to model “pre-constitutional” decision-making –what has become known as constitutional
economics- is a singular and overarching contribution to both the disciplines of economics and
politics (A6, A7, A12, A13, A14). I would argue that it is even more important than his research on
“post-constitutional” choice, which takes political institutions as exogenous.
5 My impression of Chicago analysis of that era was that, except for Stigler, it explained costly social policy
more by ignorance and misunderstanding than by interest-group politics.
Earlier in the methodology part of this essay, I mentioned Buchanan’s individualistic approach to
political choice, which Buchanan, along with Tullock, gave precise form in The Calculus. Each
chapter and each of the two appendices is a jewel of research, exploring the question of pre- and
post-constitutional political choice. The Calculus employs the transactions cost approach, weighing
coordination gains of group choice against rent-seeking losses, while observing how various political
institutions affect this calculus—majority rule, franchise extension, bi-cameralism, proportional
representation, and the like. According to a recent article in Public Choice (Downing and Stafford,
1981), measured by citation counts The Calculus is among the most important of the books and
articles written in the last thirty years on rigorous political economy—sharing honors with Arrow’s
Social Choice and Individual Values (1951), Anthony Downs’ An Economic Theory of Democracy (1957), and
Duncan Black’s, A Theory of Committees and Elections (1958). Unlike Black and Downs whose classics
were followed by few other major contributions to the subject by the authors, Buchanan has built
upon his research to develop a deeper understanding of politics. These contributions are legion (B3,
B7, B9, A16, A18, A24, A30, A31, A32, A41, A42, C13, C17, C18, C21, C22, C25, C28, C30),
exploring every avenue of fiscal and regulatory politics, and nowadays even branching out into ethics
and moral philosophy (O3, O5, O7), an application he more-or-less began in 1965 (A21). In this
latter area he is favorably compared with John Rawls and Robert Nozick, the two acknowledged
leaders in the modern resurgence of moral philosophy. As well, he has used this constitutional
methodology to criticize Richard Posner’s call for efficiency considerations by common law judges
(A29) as well as to explore the “rules vs. authority” controversy in monetary economics (B8, M3, M4,
A42, C1, C16). That he does all of this with fluidity and lucidity has made these writings not only
cited, but also still read!
Buchanan clearly relishes moving against the grain in his role as a moral philosopher. Scott Gordon
accused him in a famous review, “The New Contradictions” (1976), of committing the “naturalistic
fallacy” of deriving an “ought” from an “is”. Buchanan proudly accepted that indictment (O5,
Chapter 9), claiming that ethical rules can be derived from the nature of man, a position my
philosopher friends tell me is quite respectable today and whose implications are now much explored
in their profession. An acknowledged Hobbesian, Buchanan continues further in this little known
paper (O5, Chapter 9)—delivered at the Public Choice Society meeting in 1977 and a classic piece of
Buchananesque writing—to castigate his fellow economists for their unwillingness to look at the
state and man as they are, rather than as they find it ideologically congenial or operationally
In all his writings on political rules-of-the-game, Buchanan claims there is massive polity failure due
to insensitivity of politicians as agents (bureaucrats and elected officials) to their principals (ordinary
citizens), a sort of high transactions cost corruption of the democratic state. The result is an
excessively growing state, with diverse and numerous special interests feeding off the fiscal and
regulatory commons. This, he claims, is based on sound positive economics, and for those who see
the facts his way, the policy “cure” is (a) serious constitutional reforms which raise the cost of
politicians “cutting deals” with entrenched, privileged clienteles, and (b) competition from private
contractors to limit the monopolistic practices of bureaucrats and amongst themselves. Needless to
say, not all members of the Public Choice Society find the system so transactionally biased, nor do
they consider his prescriptions normatively wise. It is safe to say, however, that most find themselves
required to rethink the foundations of their models every time this radical political economy theorist
takes his powerful mind to the topic6.
Because of his pessimistic view of democratic politics, Buchanan everywhere finds himself at odds
with the new Panglossian interpretation of policy; to wit: it is always optimal. This view, termed the
New-New Welfare Economics, and associated most prominently with Nobel Prize winner George
6 One prominent public choice economist whose views definitely changed because of Buchanan and his
Virginia School colleagues is Mancur Olson. One need only compare his 1965 and 1983 treatises to see this
Stigler (1982) and his Chicago colleague Gary Becker (1976), argues that institutions develop so as to
minimize the sum of deadweight and transactions costs. A form of modern Social Darwinism,
Buchanan finds such a deterministic interpretation implausible. He firmly believes that ideas and
their embodiment in ideology matter and he sides with other Nobel Prize winners around the
position that useful and clear economic analysis is a form of public good that policy makers can
abuse, but on the whole can employ for good, a position he shares with past Nobelists much
different from him in philosophical outlook, Kenneth Arrow, and James Meade, as well as those in
the Chicago School, Milton Friedman and Theodore Schultz.
Buchanan is unique, among economists, however, in that he holds post-constitutional policy analysis
largely uninteresting. Thus, to devote a great deal of energy to pointing out that tariffs do more harm
to consumers than the good to the protected agents of production seems unuseful to him, since the
protectionists often have the margin of votes in the legislature. The answer is to move back to the
study of constitutional choice issues. Thus, he is more an American Madisonian than a Chicago
School scholar. As I said before in the penultimate part of this section, Buchanan’s message still
does not seem to get through on this front to most in the profession, who continue to think that
Kaldor-Hicks arguments favoring efficient policy are necessarily politically persuasive. I am unsure
why such naiveté persists, but I will predict that because of Buchanan and his colleagues such
Victorian welfare economics will not likely persist another decade or two.
3. A SUMMING UP
Although J. B. Clark warned us about the use of the marginal product theory in making judgments
about the social worth of individuals, he nonetheless would not object to asking what we would have
missed in our discipline without Buchanan’s contributions. Had contemplation of the Second World
War not prompted him to take a commission in the U.S. Navy in late 1941, he might have left
Tennessee with his M.A. for Columbia to take up a doctoral fellowship to study statistics and
econometrics under Harold Hotelling. Given Buchanan’s well-known (dis)tastes on such empirical
matters, I fear the profession would have not kept him long. Inside ten books, over one hundred
full-length articles, seventy book reviews, and fifty comments, replies, notes and public testimonies
are several crucial ideas that might not have been developed by others, at least for some time—the
notion of politics as a rational choice process, the view of choice of rules as a derived demand related
to and depending on predicted behavior under these rules; the concept of complex-contracting in
group decisions; the idea of private wants served by public means; the principal-and-agent conflict in
the carrying out of policy; and finally, the choice of ethical rules as the equivalent of moral capital.
Further lost would have been his creation of the Virginia School, whose heyday in the 1950s and
1960s brought together the likes of Coase, Nutter, Tullock, Yeager, and himself. In addition, the
Virginia School trained a host of distinguished scholars such as J. Ronnie Davis, Otto Davis, Charles
Goetz, David Johnson, Cotton Mather Lindsay, James Miller, Mark Pauly, Charles Plott, Paul Craig
Roberts, William Craig Stubblebine, Robert Tollison, Richard Wagner, and Thomas Willett. During
his tenure at Virginia and Virginia Tech he influenced at least as many active researchers- some early
in their careers- who were privileged to spend time there. While I can only guess at this list, I would
include, besides myself, Peter Bernholz, the late Winston Bush, William Breit, Geoffrey Brennan,
Mark Crain, Arthur Denzau, Harold Hochman, Dwight Lee, Robert Mackay, Dennis Mueller, Earl
Thompson, Edward West, and Andrew Whinston. (I will probably regret putting these lists to paper,
since important names are doubtless forgotten.)
Given the nature of scientific discovery, substitutes for the absence of Buchanan’s scholarship—and
his influence as a colleague and teacher— surely would have been found. The history of science
even in the informationally non-integrated ancient and medieval world confirms this time and again.
But substitutions are never perfect and are always costly. Our profession would have been the
poorer for the absence of James Buchanan.
I personally wish that Buchanan’s thinking was more congenial to empirical work and that he
devoted more of his valuable skills to positive economics, especially in the last decade. Of course,
zero-price druthers are readily indulged. Nonetheless, many of his intellectual sons and daughters,
even grandchildren, have pursued this less normative path to good effect. Scholars at Cal Tech,
Carnegie-Mellon, Claremont, George Mason, Rochester, Washington University, and University of
Washington continuously and rigorously explore Buchananite themes, as do others in less public
choice concentrated institutions. I dare say he does not always approve of his progenies’ research
agendas. All quibbles need to be set aside here. Even Buchanan’s rational expectationist critics
practicing the New-New Welfare Economics admit their methodological debt to him, as do
economists of wholly different political persuasions who find his stated constitutional prescriptions
uncongenial or even anathema. In sum, the life’s work of this man is clearly of Nobelist quality.
1. Robert J. Barro. “Comments from and Unreconstructed Ricardian.” Journal of Monetary
Economics (Aug. 1978).
2. ________ and David M. Gordon. “A Positive Theory of Monetary Policy in a Natural Rate
Model.” Journal of Political Economy (Aug. 1983).
3. Gary Becker. “ Comment: Toward a More General Thoery of Regulation,” The Journal of
Law and Economics (Aug. 1976).
4. ________. The Economic Approach to Human Behavior. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
5. Mark Blaug. “Buchanan, James M.” In Blaug, Great Economists since Keynes. Totowa, N.J.:
Barnes and Nobel, 1985.
6. Ronald H. Coase, “The Federal Communications Commission,” The Journal of Law and
7. ____________, “The Problem of Social Cost,” The Journal of Law and Economics (1960).
8. P.B. Dowing and E.A. Stafford, “Citations as an Indicator of Classic Works and Major
Contributions in Social Choice,” Public Choice (No. 2, 1981).
9. H. Scott Gordon, “The New Contradictions,” Journal of Political Economy (June, 1976).
10. Anne Krueger, “The Political Economy of a Rent-Seeking Society,” American Economic Review
11. Gareth Locksley. “Individuals, Contracts and Constitutions: The Political Economy of
James M. Buchanan.” In J.R. Shackelton and Gareth Locksley (eds.), Twelve Contemporary
Economists. London: Macmillan Press, 1981.
12. Dennis C. Mueller. “On Buchanan.” In H.W. Spiegel and W.J. Samuels (eds.), Contemporary
Economists in Perspective. Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1984.
13. Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1965.
14. ______, The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation and Social Rigidity. New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.
15. A.C. Pigou, A Study in Public Finance. 3rd Ed., London: Macmillan, 1947.
16. George Stigler. The Economist as Preacher and Other Essays. Chicago: University of Chicago
17. Charles M. Tiebout, “A Pure Theory of Local Expenditure,” Journal of Political Economy (Oct.,
18. Gordon Tullock, “The Welfare Cost of Tariffs, Monopolies, and Theft,” Western Economic
Journal (now Economic Inquiry) (May 1968).
V. KEY WORKS OF JAMES M. BUCHANAN
(chronologically and by categories)
Public Principle of Public Debt. Homewood, Illinois: Richard D. Irwin, 1958
The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy. With Gordon
Tullock. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962.
B3. Public Finance in a Democratic Process. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
The Demand and Supply of Public Goods. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1968.
Cost and Choice: An Inquiry in Economic Theory. Chicago: Markham Press, 1969.
Academia in Anarchy: An Economic Diagnosis. With Nicos E. Devletoglou. New York:
Basic Books, 1970.
B7. The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Utopia. Chicago: University of Chicago
B8. Democracy in Deficit: The Political Legacy of Lord Keynes. With Richard E. Wagner. New
York: Academic Press, 1977.
B9. The Power to Tax: Analytical Foundations of a Fiscal Constitution. With H. Geoffrey
Brennan. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.
B10. The Public Finances. Homewood: Richard D. Irwin, 1960. Current and 5th edition
with Marilyn Flowers, 1980.
M1. The Inconsistencies of the National Health Services. London: Institute of Economic
M2. Public Debt in a Democratic Society. With Richard E. Wagner. Washington, D.C.:
American Enterprise Institute, 1967
M3. The Consequences of Mr. Keynes. With John Burton and Richard E. Wagner. London:
Institute of Economic Affairs, 1978
M4. Monopoly in Money and Inflation: The Case for a Constitution to Discipline Government. With
H. Geoffrey Brennan. London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1981.
ARTICLES IN JOURNALS
A1. “The Pure Theory of Public Finance: A Suggested Approach,” Journal of Political
Economy (Dec. 1949), 496-505.
“Federalism and Fiscal Equity,” American Economic Review (Sept. 1950), 583-99.
“Knut Wickwell on Marginal Cost Pricing,” Southern Economic Journal (Oct. 1951),
A4. “Federal Grants and Resource Allocation,” Journal of Political Economy (June 1952),
A5. “The Theory of Monopolistic Quantity Discounts,” Review of Economic Studies (June
A6. “Social Choice, Democracy, and Free Markets,” Journal of Political Economy (Apr.
A7. “Individual Choice in Voting and the Market,” Journal of Political Economy (Aug.
A8. “Private Ownership and Common Usage,” Southern Economic Journal (Jan. 1956), 305-
A9. “Ceteris Paribus: Notes on Methodology,” Southern Economic Journal (Jan. 1958), 259-
A10. “Positive Economics, Welfare Economics, and Political Economy,” Journal of Law
and Economics (Oct. 1959), 124-38.
A11. “The Evaluation of Public Services,” Journal of Political Economy (Apr. 1961), 107-21,
with F. Forte.
A12. “Simple Majority Voting, Game Theory and Resource Use,” Canadian Journal of
Economic and Political Science (Aug. 1961), 337-48.
“Politics, Policy, and the Pigovian Margins,” Economica (Feb. 1962), 17-28.
“The Relevance of Pareto Optimality,” Journal of Conflict Resolution (Dec. 1962), 341-
“Externality,” With W.C. Stubblebine, Economica (Nov. 1962), 371-84.
“The Economics of Earmarked Taxes,” Journal of Political Economy (Oct. 1963), 457-
“What Should Economists Do?” Southern Economic Journal (Jan. 1964), 213-22.
“Fiscal Institutions and Efficiency in Collective Outlay,” American Economic Review
(May 1964), 227-35.
A19. “Fiscal Choice through Time,” with F. Forte. National Tax Journal (June 1964), 144-
“An Economic Theory of Clubs,” Economica (Feb. 1965), 1-14.
“Ethical Rules, Expected Values, and Large Numbers,” Ethics (Oct. 1965), 1-13.
“Externality in Tax Response,” Southern Economic Journal (July 1966), 35-42.
“Joint Supply, Externality, and Optimality,” Economies (Nov. 1966), 406-15.
“On the Incidence of Tax Deductibility.” With Mark Pauly. National Tax Journal
(June 1970), 157-67.
A25. “External Diseconomies in Competitive Supply.” With Charles J. Goetz. American
Economic Review (Dec. 1971), 883-90.
A26. “Efficiency Limits of Fiscal Mobility,” With Charles J. Goetz. Journal of Public
Economics (No. 1, 1972), 25-43.
A27. “Politics, Property and the Law: An Alternative Interpretation of Miller et al. v.
Schoene,” Journal of Law and Economics (Oct. 1972), 439-52.
A28. “The Coase Theorem and the Theory of the State,” Natural Resources Journal (Oct.
“Good Economies—Bad Law,” Virginia Law Review (Spring 1974), 483-92.
“Polluters, Profits and Political Response: Direct Controls v. Taxes.” With Gordon
Tullock. American Economic Review (March 1975), 139-47.
“Public Choice and Public Finance,” National Tax Journal (Dec. 1975), 383-04.
“Taxation in Fiscal Exchange,” Journal of Public Economics (No. 1, 1976), 1-16.
“The Justice of Natural Liberty,” Journal of Legal Studies (Jan. 1976), 1-16.
“Toward a Tax Constitution for Leviathan.” With H. Geoffrey Brennan. Journal of
Public Economics (Dec. 1977), 255-74.
A36. “Market States, and the Extent of Morals,” American Economic Review (May 1978),
A37. “The Logic of Tax Limits.” With H. Geoffrey Brennan. National Tax Journal (June
A38. “The Homogenization of Heterogeneous Inputs.” With Robert D. Tollison.
American Economic Review (Mar. 1981), 28-38.
A39. “Revenue Implications of Money Creation Under Leviathan,” American Economic
Review (May 1981), 347-51.
A40. “Entrepreneurship and the Internalization of Externality.” With Roger Faith.
Journal of Law and Economics (Mar. 1981), 95-111.
A41. “Tax Rates and Tax Revenues in Political Equilibrium: Some Simple Analytics.”
With Dwight P. Lee. Economic Inquiry (July 1982), 3443-54.
A42. “Predictive Power and Choice among Regimes,” Economic Journal (Mar. 1983), 89-
A43. “Rent Seeking, Non-Compensated Transfers, and Laws of Succession,” Journal of
Law and Economics (Apr. 1983), 71-86.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO BOOKS
C1. “Comparative Tax Analysis and Economic Methodology.” In James M. Buchanan,
Fiscal Theory and Political Economy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1961, pp. 151-69.
C2. “The Methodology of Incidence Theory: A Critical Review of Some Recent
Controversies.” In Buchanan, Fiscal Theory, pp. 125-50.
C3. “’La scienza delle finanze’: The Italian Tradition in Fiscal Theory.” In Buchanan
(ed.), Fiscal Theory, pp. 24-74.
C4. “Predictability: The Criterion for Monetary Constitution.” In Leland B. Yeager
(ed.), In Search of a Monetary Constitution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962,
C5. “Concerning Future Generations.” In James M. Ferguson (ed.), Pubic Debt and
Future Generations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1964, pp. 55-63.
C6. “Public Debt, Cost Theory, and the Fiscal Illusion.” In Ferguson, Public Debt, pp.
C7. “Economics and Its Scientific Neighbors.” In Sherman Krop (ed.), The Structure of
Economic Science. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1966, pp. 166-83.
C8. “An Individualistic Theory of Political Process.” In David Easton (ed.), Varieties of
Political Theory. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1966, pp. 166-83.
C9. “Frank H. Knight.” Biographical article, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences,
1968, pp. 424-28.
“Public Debt.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 1968, pp. 28-34.
“Is Economics a Science of Choice?” In Erich Streissler (ed.), Roads to Freedom:
Essays in Honor of Friedreich Hayek. London: Routledge & Kegan, 1969, pp. 47-64.
C12. “An Efficiency Basis for Federal Fiscal Equalization.” With Richard E. Wagner. In
J. Margolis (ed.), The Analysis of Public Output. New York: National Bureau of
Economic Research, 1970, pp. 139-56.
C13. “Before Public Choice.” In Gordon Tullock (ed.), Explorations in the Theory of
Anarchy. Blacksburg: Center for Study of Public Choice, 1972, pp. 27-37.
C14. “The Political Economy of Franchise in the Welfare State.” In Richard T. Selden
(ed.), Capitalism and Freedom: Problems and Prospects Charlottesville: University of
Virginia Press, 1975, pp. 52-77.
C15. “Inflation and Real Rates of Income Tax.” With James Dean. Proceedings of the 67th
Annual National Tax Association on Taxation. Columbus: National Tax Association,
1975, pp. 343-49.
C16. “Gold, Money, and the Law: The Limits of Governmental Monetary Authority.”
With Nicholas Tideman. In Henry G. Manne and Roger L. Miller (eds.), Gold,
Money, and the Law. Chicago: Aldine Press, 1975, pp. 9-70.
C17. “Political Constraints on Contractual Redistribution.” With Winston C. Bush. In
Arthur Denzau and Robert Mackay (eds.), Essays on Unorthodox Economic Strategies.
Blacksburg: Center for the Study of Public Choice, 1976, pp. 57-64.
C18. “Political Equality and Private Property: The Distributional Paradox.” In G.
Dworkin et al. (eds.), Market and Morals. Washington, D.C.: Hemisphere Publishing,
1977, pp. 69-84.
C19. “Why Does Government Grow?” In Thomas E. Borcherding (ed.), Budgets and
Bureaucrats: the Sources of Government Growth. Durham: Duke University Press, 1977,
C20. “Public Goods and Natural Liberty.” In Thomas Wilson and Andrew Skinner
(eds.), The Market and the State: Essays in Honor of Adam Smith. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1978, pp. 271-86.
C21. “The Justice of Natural Liberty.” In Fred Glahe (ed.), Adam Smith and the Wealth of
Nations. Boulder: Colorado Associated University Press, 1978, pp. 61-82.
C22. “From Private Preferences to Public Philosophy: Notes on the Development of
Public Choice.” In Buchanan, et al., the Economies of Politics. London: Institute for
Economic Affairs, 1978, pp.1-20.
C23. “The Economic Constitution and the New Deal.” In Gary Walton (ed.), Regulatory
Change in an Atmosphere of Crisis. New York: Academic Press, 1979, pp. 13-26.
C24. “A Hobbesian Interpretation of the Rawlsian Difference Principle.” In Karl Bruner
(ed.), Economics and Social Institutions. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 1979, pp. 59-78.
C25. “On Some Fundamental Issues in Political Economy: An Exchange of
Correspondence.” With Warren Samuels. In W. Samuels (ed.), the Methodology of
Economic Thought. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Book, 1980, pp. 517-40.
C26. “Rent Seeking and Profit Seeking.” In James M. Buchanan, Robert Tollison and
Gordon Tullock (eds.), Toward a Theory of the Rent-Seeking Society. College Station:
Texas A&M University Press, 1980, pp. 3-15.
C27. “The Domain of Subjective Economics: Between Predictive Science and Moral
Philosophy.” In Israel M. Kirzner (ed.), Method, Process, and Austrian Economies: Essays
in Honor of Ludwig von Mises. Lexington: D.C. Heath, 1982, pp.7-20.
C28. “Constitutional Contract in Capitalism.” In Sveotar Pejovich (ed.), Philosophical and
Economic Foundations of Capitalism. Lexington: Lexington Books, 1983, pp. 65-69.
C29. “Moral Community and Moral Order: The Intensive and Extensive Limits of
Interaction.” In H. Miller and W. Williams (eds.), Ethics and Animals. Clifton, N.J.:
Humane Press, 1983, pp. 95-102.
C30. “The Tax System as Social Overhead Capital.” In Karl Roskamp (ed.), Public Finance
and Economic Growth. Proceedings of the 37th Congress of the International Institute
of Public Finance, Tokyo, 1981; Detroit; Wayne State University Press, 1983, pp.
“Criteria for Government Expenditures,” Journal of Finance (Dec. 1951), 440-42
“Wicksell on Fiscal Reform,” American Economic Review (Sept. 1972), 599-602
“Saving and the Rate of Interest,” Journal of Political Economy (Feb. 1959), 58-61.
“Confessions of a Burden Monger,” Journal of Political Economy (Oct. 1964), 486-88.
“The Icons of Public Debt,” Journal of Political Economy (Sept. 1966), 544-46.
“What Kind of Redistribution Do We Want?” Economica (May 1968), 185-90.
“External Diseconomies, Corrective Taxes, and Market Structure,” American
Economic Review (Mar. 1969), 174-77.
“Barro on Ricardian Equivalence,” Journal of Political Economy (Apr. 1976), 337-42.
“Adam Smith on Public Choice,” Public Choice (Spring 1976), 81-82.
“Monetary Research, Monetary Rubs, and Monetary Regimes,” The Cato Journal
(Spring 1983), 143-46.
OTHER WRITINGS IN BOOKS
EDITED BY BUCHANAN
O1. Theory of Public Choice: Political Applications of Economies. With Robert D. Tollison.
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972.
Chapter 2, “Toward Analysis of Closed Behavioral Systems.”
Chapter 5, “Easy Budgets and Tight Money.”
Chapter 6, “Fiscal Policy and Fiscal Preference.”
Chapter 12, “A Public Choice Approach to Public Utility Pricing.’
O2. L.S.E. Essays on Cost. With G.F. Thirlby. London: Wiedenfeld and Nicholson,
O3. Freedom in Constitutional Contract: Perspective of a Political Economist. College Station:
Texas A&M University Press, 1977.
Chapter 1, “A Contractorian Perspective on Anarchy.”
Chapter 2, “Law and the Invisible Hand.”
Chapter 4, “The Libertarians Legitimacy of the State.”
Chapter 5, “Politics and Science.”
Chapter 7, “Politics, Property, and the Law.”
Chapter 9, “Notes on Justice in Contract.”
Chapter 10, “The Use and Abuse on Contract.”
Chapter 16, “A Contractorian Paradigm for Applying Economic Theory.”
O4. Fiscal Responsibility in Constitutional Democracy. With Richard E. Wagner. Boston:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1978.
Chapter 1, “Contemporary Democracy and the Prospect for Fiscal Control: Initial
Thoughts about and Final Reaction to the Conference.”
Chapter 5, “The Political Biases of Keynesian Economics.”
What Should Economists Do? Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1979.
Chapter 3, “Professor Alchian on Economic Method.”
Chapter 4, “General Implications of Subjectivism in Economics.”
Chapter 5, “Natural and Artifactual Man.”
Chapter 8, “Foreword to Tullock’s the Politics of Bureaucracy.”
Chapter 9 “Notes on the History and Direction of Public Choice.”
Chapter 13, “Equality as Fact and Norm.”
Chapter 14, “Public Finance and Academic Freedom.”
Chapter 15, “Public Choice and Ideology.”
Chapter 17, “Democratic Values in Taxation.”
Chapter 18, “Taxation in Fiscal Exchange.”
Chapter 19, “Pragmatic Reform and Constitutional Revolution.”
Chapter 20, “Criteria for a Free Society: Definition, Diagnosis and Prescription.”
O6. Towards a Theory of Rent-Seeking Society. With Robert D. Tollison and Gordon
Chapter 10, “Rent Seeking Under External Economies.”
Chapter 22, “Reform in the Rent-Seeking Society.”
O7. Theory of Public Choice-II. With Robert D. Tollison. Ann Arbor: University of
Michigan Press, 1984.
“Politics without Romance: A Sketch of Positive Public Choice Theory and Its
Normative Implications,” pp. 11-22.
“Toward a Theory of Yes-No Voting.” With Robert L. Faith, pp. 90-104.
“The Normative Purpose of Economic ‘Science’ Rediscovery of an Eighteenth
Century Method.” With H.G. Brennan, pp. 383-94.
“Constitutional Restrictions on the Power of Government,” pp. 439-52.
T1. “A New Principle of Just Taxation,” taken, in part, from Knut Wicksell Finanz
theoretische Uter suchugen (Jena, 1896) In R. A. Musgrave and A. T. Peacock,
Classics in the Theory of Public Finance, London: Macmillon, 1958, pp. 72-118.