James M. Buchanan and the Public Choice Tradition
21 Pages Posted:
Date Written: December 28, 2020
James M. Buchanan thought big. He dedicated his career to the study of fundamental issues, and he wrote for the ages. He changed how we think about economic and political theory. Many of his most radical insights are now part of the mainstream orthodoxy in economics and increasingly influential in political science. He was an abstract thinker who used simplified models to isolate and understand basic principles. This is not to say he was a thinker removed from actual issues in the real world. Far from it: in fact, his conviction that most of the models economists use do not describe the real world as he observed it inspired him to dig deeper into the theory of public finance. Buchanan asked, quite simply, “what conclusions do we draw if we make the same assumptions about people’s political behavior that we make about their commercial behavior?” It yielded a series of pathbreaking insights that changed how scholars understand political processes. In this paper, we discuss Buchanan's role as economist, political theorist, and social philosopher as well as review some of his major contributions in the economics discipline.
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