James Buchanan as intellectual entrepreneur.

Author:Tabarrok, Alex
  1. Introduction

    James Buchanan was a fountainhead of ideas, as his twenty-volume collected works demonstrate. But there is another side to Buchanan's contributions that is less apparent. Buchanan was more than a scholar, more than an idea man. He was also an intellectual entrepreneur who led a worldwide movement. We like to believe that good ideas defeat bad ideas, that the cream rises to the top, that truth wins out in the end, but as John Stuart Mill (1859) stated, "Men are not more zealous for truth than they often are for error." Indeed, error may attract more zealots, since error can bend itself to flatter, and the truth does not bend.

    Buchanan understood right from the beginning that for good ideas to win requires a movement, and a movement is not built on ideas alone, but also on students, on conferences, on outreach, on media, and on money. He was legendary in being willing to read and give detailed comments on papers. He worked with his students and for his students. He wrote letters on their behalf, he attended conferences, he networked, and he served on editorial boards. He raised money. Indeed, the last time I saw Jim was just a few weeks before he passed when he came to Fairfax, Virginia, at my request, to help raise money for the Center for Study of Public Choice. He also knew that a movement is never the work of one person alone. It also takes colleagues: like-minded scholars who encourage, challenge, and cooperate in building an edifice, a Weltanschauung, a worldview.

  2. Giving Rebirth to Political Economy

    It was for this reason that Buchanan, joined with Warren Nutter, founded the Thomas Jefferson Center in 1957 (later to become in essentials the Center for Study of Public Choice). Looking back, it is amazing how ambitious his goal was. Buchanan (1958) explained,

    In the century from 1750 to 1850 political economists were among the intellectual leaders guiding those political changes that had the results of removing many artificial restraints upon individual choice and initiative. ... We live today in the Western World, on the heritage of this greatest of all revolutions in human history. ... But with the march of time come great social changes. As these changes have occurred over the last century, political economy and political economists seem to have been increasingly less influential. The increasing specialization of knowledge and scholarship has forced a separation between economics and ... political philosophy. Economics...

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