James M. Buchanan (1919 — 2013)

James M. Buchanan, distinguished senior fellow, revolutionized the way we think about the political process. As the cocreator of the Public Choice School of economics (with Gordon Tullock), Buchanan introduced a realistic appraisal of political incentives and the economics of government intervention.

Before the work of Buchanan and Tullock, economists and political scientists viewed “market failure” as a litmus test for government action. When the private sector was perceived to produce a sub‐​optimal outcome, government actors would reconfigure the situation so as to rectify the problem. Buchanan and Tullock’s 1962 book, The Calculus of Consent, aggressively questioned this scenario: why do we assume that because a government acts, it necessarily solves a given problem? Don’t public as well as private actors pursue their self‐​interest?

For his work in Public Choice economics, Buchanan received the Nobel Prize in 1986. He was the advisory general director at the James M. Buchanan Center for Political Economy at George Mason University. He was an expert on public choice theory, deficit spending, bureaucracy, and public finance. Buchanan was the coauthor with Geoffrey Brennan of The Reason of Rules: Constitutional Political Economy, The Power to Tax: Analytical Foundations of a Fiscal Constitution, and author of What Should Economists Do?, and The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan, among others.

Buchanan was an active partner with the Cato Institute throughout its history as an adviser, lecturer, and author.

He passed away in January 2013.

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