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What Should Classical Liberal Political Economists Do?

15 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2013 Last revised: 12 Dec 2013

Peter J. Boettke

George Mason University - Department of Economics

Date Written: November 12, 2013


In 1964 James Buchanan famously asked “What Should Economists Do?” He argued that economists should focus their intellectual attention on exchange and the institutions within which exchange takes place. This paper reflects on Buchanan’s message and looks at the development of that argument, and its implications in the wake of post-socialist political economy on the one hand, and the post-financial crisis of 2008 on the other. Following Buchanan, the paper argues that classical liberal political economists must embrace the intellectual and practical challenges of the day, and bring a robust theory of political economy to bear on questions of justice, questions of freedom and responsibility, and questions concerning the invisible hand and the appropriate institutional framework which results in peaceful social cooperation and productive specialization in a society of free and responsible individuals.

Keywords: James Buchanan, Methodological Individualism, Spontaneous Order, Institutional Economics, Constitutional Political Economy

JEL Classification: B31, H11, P48

Suggested Citation

Boettke, Peter J., What Should Classical Liberal Political Economists Do? (November 12, 2013). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 13-36. Available at SSRN: or

Peter J. Boettke (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

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