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

See all articles by Ross B. Emmett

Ross B. Emmett

Arizona State University (ASU) - Center for the Study of Economic Liberty; PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

Date Written: August 2, 2018

Abstract

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

Emmett, Ross B., Why James Buchanan Kept Frank Knight's Picture on His Wall Despite Fundamental Disagreements on Economics, Ethics, and Politics (August 2, 2018). ASU Center for the Study of Economic Liberty Research Paper No. 18-2. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3225242 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3225242

Ross B. Emmett (Contact Author)

Arizona State University (ASU) - Center for the Study of Economic Liberty ( email )

CPCOMM 4th Floor
United States

PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

2048 Analysis Drive
Suite A
Bozeman, MT 59718
United States

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