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Gordon Tullock, RIP

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Best known as the coauthor of The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy (with Nobel Laureate James Buchanan) and the founding and long time editor of the journal Public Choice, Gordon Tullock died November 3rd at the age of 92.

Tullock was a revolutionary thinker who pushed economic analysis into the study of such things as bureaucracy, voting, non-human societies, and anarchy. Trained as a lawyer, with no formal economic training, Tullock entered the Foreign Service when he happened to read Ludwig von Mises’s recently published Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. Tullock credited Mises for the methodological foundations he used to pursue his wide-ranging research agenda.

In 1956 Tullock was hired by the Hoover Institution and in 1958 was hired by James Buchanan to work with him at the University of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson Center. Buchanan and Tullock moved first to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and then to George Mason University. Tullock was widely considered as a candidate for a Nobel Prize in economics for his contributions of establishing public choice theory and the study of rent seeking behavior.

One reason often given for his failure to win the Prize was his irascible demeanor—Tullock did not suffer fools gladly. Even if the fool was a tenured full professor or the Dean of the College!

The first paper I presented at a professional conference was “Ballot Access Requirements as a Barrier to Entry.” I gave my presentation at the Southern Economic Association conference in a small session on Public Choice. As I began to speak, Tullock walked in and took a seat in the first row directly in front of my podium. When I began to list some of the innovations of third parties in American history (i.e. alcohol prohibition, the minimum wage, social security, women’s suffrage…) Tullock waved his hand in the air. No so much to ask permission, but in disgust. He blurted out “I’m against all that!” You could have heard a pin drop. As all eyes turned to me, I responded “I am too, but that is not the point.” After that we were and remained friends.


Contact Mark Thornton

Mark Thornton is the Peterson-Luddy Chair in Austrian Economics and a Senior Fellow at the Mises Institute. He is the book review editor of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, and has authored seven books and is a frequent guest on national radio shows.

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