Monday, December 1, 2014
Professor Gordon Tullock: A Personal Remembrance
Library of Economics & Liberty
December 1, 2014
Professor Gordon Tullock will be remembered by economists around the world who never met him, much less walked in his considerable academic shadow. Gordon—I call him that because he was a mentor, co-author, and good friend—was one of the hundred most influential economists of the twentieth century. Many still lament the fact that Gordon did not share the 1986 Nobel Prize in Economics with James Buchanan, who won it for his development of public choice economics. Gordon, along with Buchanan, nurtured public choice from its birth in the late 1950s, co-authoring or authoring several of the subdiscipline's classic works.
Many economists will reflect on how, at the time of his death at age 92, Gordon could well have been on the "short list" for a future Nobel for his path breaking work on "rent seeking," which is concerned with how businesses and other interest groups seek—with lobbying and campaign contributions—monopoly profits, or "rents," through government-provided largesse or market restrictions. Gordon's work on rent-seeking spawned a mountain of journal articles that changed people's assessment of how political processes work. The concept of rent-seeking is now so widely adopted in economists' public commentaries that the expression need no longer be placed in quotes.
Beyond his many path-breaking accomplishments, however, Gordon was a real character. Many who knew him still carry the sting of dismissal or insult, while others remember epiphanies that Gordon freely distributed. Gordon could be abrasive, especially in his early years and especially when he could readily pick out flaws in arguments. Some who felt (and may still feel) his sting, but did not stay around long enough to really know him, may remember him as mean-spirited. But those of us who lingered came to realize that he was virtually incapable of being intentionally mean-spirited. He was an economist who saw argument as a serious sport. He would not drop arguments or even sugarcoat them out of concern for political (or personal) correctness.
Posted by Yulie Foka at 1:30 PM