Gordon Tullock (1922-2014)

Gordon Tullock, one of the founders of the sub-discipline of public choice, passed away November 3, at the age of 92. Public choice uses the methods of economics to analyze political decision-making, and Tullock’s book, co-authored with James Buchanan, The Calculus of Consent, was a pioneering work in public choice. It is the best-known work written by either Buchanan or Tullock, and many people thought that when Buchanan won the 1986 Nobel Prize in economics for his work in public choice, that prize should have been shared with Tullock.

Tullock’s contributions go well beyond his co-authored book. He wrote the first article on rent-seeking, he extended public choice analysis beyond the examination of democratic governments to look at other arrangements ranging from autocracy to anarchy, he was co-founder of the Public Choice Society, and founding editor of the journal Public Choice.

While other scholars worked in the area of public choice around the same time as Buchanan and Tullock (and even before), it was Buchanan and Tullock who turned occasional writing in the area into a movement, partly by starting the Public Choice Society, and partly by establishing the journal.

I recall Tullock explaining the importance of the journal as an outlet for scholarly writing in public choice. The mainstream journals in economics and political science did not view public choice as a part of their disciplines, and as a result, scholars working in the area often had a difficult time publishing their articles. Tullock’s idea was that if they could not get them published in those journals, having a journal that specialized in public choice would give them the opportunity to have their work published somewhere, and so would give scholars an incentive to work in the area. The journal Tullock founded is now very highly regarded by both economists and political scientists.

Tullock remained academically active, and was a regular attendee of the Public Choice Society annual meetings, until the past few years when his declining health curtailed his ability to travel.

Tullock’s impact on economics and political science was immense, and with his passing the world has lost a brilliant scholar.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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