Gordon Tullock: A Subjectivist Theorist of Law and Economics

16 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2020

See all articles by Richard E. Wagner

Richard E. Wagner

George Mason University - Department of Economics; George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Date Written: June 2, 2020


Gordon Tullock (1922-2014) took only one academic degree, a J.D. from the University of Chicago in 1947. He leveraged that degree into a polymathic career where he made significant contributions to economics, law, political science, history, and biology, among other disciplines. Tullock was a subjectivist, for he sought to apprehend all social phenomena from the perspectives of the individuals whose actions generated those phenomena. In his subjectivism, Tullock’s subjectivism stands in sharp contrast to Richard Posner’s objectivist claim that the common law illustrates the relentless pursuit of economic efficiency. Tullock denied this claim even though he accepted the universality of the formal principle of economizing action. Tullock’s body of work illustrates how any analytical claim about societal consequences of legal practices necessarily rests on and is derived from some preceding set of conceptual presuppositions, about which choices exist. Such properties as “efficiency” are not facts that can be directly apprehended but are inferences derived from some particular theoretical framework.

Keywords: subjectivism vs. objectivism; spontaneous ordering; efficiency claims; judicial accuracy; form vs. substance

JEL Classification: D23, D61, D73, K40

Suggested Citation

Wagner, Richard E., Gordon Tullock: A Subjectivist Theorist of Law and Economics (June 2, 2020). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 20-18, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3617036 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3617036

Richard E. Wagner (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

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