Why James Buchanan Kept Frank Knight's Picture on His Wall Despite Fundamental Disagreements on Economics, Ethics, and Politics
20 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2018
Date Written: August 2, 2018
Jim Buchanan kept pictures of Knut Wicksell and Frank H. Knight on his office wall. Yet a careful look at Buchanan’s work indicates that it ran counter to that of Frank H. Knight. Knight and Buchanan disagreed on the methodological, economic, ethical, and political assumptions that drove their work. Knight rejected methodological individualism, the underlying methodological commitment of Buchanan’s research program. While Knight remained within the standard constrained maximization framework of neoclassical economics, Buchanan adopted a catallactic perspective. Ethically, Knight argued that all ethical judgments must remain open to debate, and also rejected the de gustibus non est disputandum assumption that went hand-in-hand among economists with methodological individualism. And philosophically, Knight’s theory of democratic politics was centered on “democracy as discussion” rather than choice, contract, and constitution. Why, then, did Buchanan keep that picture of Knight on his wall? After a survey of his published criticisms of Knight, the conclusion emerges that engagement with Knight pushed Buchanan toward a more open-ended political economy.
Keywords: Buchanan, Knight, ethics, methodological individualism, political economy
JEL Classification: B20, B30, B31, B41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation