Professor James M Buchanan: Economist who won the Nobel Prize
Tuesday 15 January 2013
James M Buchanan, who died on 9 January at the age of 93, was an American economist who won the 1986 Nobel Prize for applying the principles of economic self-interest to understand why politicians do what they do. He was a pioneer in the field known as public-choice theory, which views government decisions through the personal interests of the bureaucrats and elected leaders who want to advance in their careers and win campaigns.
James McGill Buchanan was born in 1919 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. During the Second World War he served in the US Navy on the staff of Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the Pacific fleet. He earned his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1948.
He taught at the University of Tennessee and Florida State University. At the University of Virginia, where he taught from 1956-68, he led the economics department and helped found the Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy, the research institute through which he continued his work on public-choice theory. His best-known book, The Calculus of Consent, was published in 1962. He collaborated on it with his research institute co-founder, Gordon Tullock.
The Royal Swedish Academy awarded Buchanan the Nobel Prize in economics "for his development of the contractual and constitutional bases for the theory of economic and political decision-making." He summarised public choice as "politics without romance" and said it helps explain why established bureaucracies "tend to grow apparently without limit," why pork-barrel politics endure and why the tax system is defined by "the increasing number of special credits, exemptions and loopholes." At the time he received the award, his ideas were finding a receptive audience within the Reagan administration.
"Buchanan's contribution is that he has transferred the concept of gain derived from mutual exchange between individuals to the realm of political decision-making," the Nobel committee wrote. "According to Buchanan, it is often futile to advise politicians or influence the outcome of specific issues. In a given system of rules, the outcome is to a large extent determined by established political constellations."
As Buchanan put it in Liberty, Market and the State (1986), politics is "a process within which individuals, with separate and potentially differing interests and values, interact for the purpose of securing individually valued benefits of cooperative effort." The choice of Buchanan for the Nobel drew some criticism, in part because his area of study was a step away from traditional economics in the direction of political science.
Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax
- 1 Exodus Gods and Kings casting controversy: Ridley Scott would never cast 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
- 2 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
- 3 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 4 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
- 5 Michael Buerk wishes he killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
Black Friday 2014: Opening times for Asda, John Lewis, GAME, PC World and Argos
Sean Abbott: Messages of support flood in for bowler after death of Phil Hughes
Plebgate: Andrew Mitchell’s reputation in tatters as judge rules he used the word ‘pleb’
Dr Lam Hoe Yeoh: Voyeur doctor jailed for eight years after using network of hidden cameras to film patients, colleagues and friends on the toilet
'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
Obama: The only people with the right to object to immigration are Native Americans
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Ukip mocked after mistaking Westminster Cathedral – for a mosque
Sarah Vine criticises lesbian mother Jack Monroe: 'If she was unsure about her sexuality, she should have taken greater precautions'
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you have experience of B2B s...
£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Prestigious asset management house seeks a...
£Negotiable: Citifocus Ltd: This is a varied role focusing on the firm's mutua...
£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Scotland's leading train...