James Buchanan: He "Uneducated" the Economists

The New York Times has a long and interesting obituary for Nobel-winning economist James M. Buchanan, whom Brian Doherty wrote about this morning.

Some snippets from the Times' send-off:

Over the years since Dr. Buchanan won the Nobel [in 1986], much of what he predicted has played out. Government is bigger than ever. Tax revenue has fallen far short of public programs’ needs. Public and private borrowing has become a way of life. Politicians still act in their own interests while espousing the public good, and national deficits have soared into the trillions.

Dr. Buchanan partly blamed Keynesian economics for what he considered a decline in America’s fiscal discipline. John Maynard Keynes argued that budget deficits were not only unavoidable but in fiscal emergencies were even desirable as a means to increase spending, create jobs and cut unemployment. But that reasoning allowed politicians to rationalize deficits under many circumstances and over long periods, Dr. Buchanan contended.

Boy, did he ever call that one. In explaining the essence of his life's work, Buchanan had this to say:

Dr. Buchanan said the prize highlighted his long struggle for a concept. “I have faced a sometimes lonely and mostly losing battle of ideas for some 30 years now in efforts to bring academic economists’ opinions into line with those of the man on the street,” he said. “My task has been to ‘uneducate’ the economists.”

Whole thing here.

I especially recommend folks interested in this titan of modern politicial economy to read Deirdre McCloskey's wonderful review of Buchanan's own great memoir, Better Than Plowing. McCloskey praises Buchanan for quoting Nietzche and for being "educated" rather than "smart." By which she means that Buchanan engaged the world in very real and visceral ways; like very few of his peers or students, he read widely too, in all sorts of fields. He worked hard at figuring out the world's secrets and tried and tried again when stuff didn't come naturally to him. He was like the Batman of great economists - he wasn't born with superpowers, he acquired his insights through hard work and dogged determination.

Buchanan was also a classic insider-outsider: He hailed from Tennessee, far outside the part of the country where people were taken seriously during his youth (he was born in 1919). He describes movingly his anger at being taken for a yokel because of his origins, his generally unpolished academic pedigree (a B.A. from Middle Tennesse State Teachers College and an M.A. from University of Tennessee before ending up at Chicago), and his faculty affiliation with what passed for sketchy places back in the day (Univ. of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and George Mason).

In Better than Plowing, he memorably recalls how during World War II, the military brought in an actual Rockefeller heir to run his training platoon, on the assumption that non-Ivy Leaguers were too stupid for the job. "From that day forward," he wrote, "I have shared in the emotional damage imposed by discrimination, in any form, and 'fairness' assumed for me a central normative position decades before I came to discuss principles of justice professionally and philosophically."

Like many people born in his time and place, he remembered true scarcity and the toll it took on people barely eking out a living - and how power differentials ultimately corrupted a newly flush public sector that wasn't going to be held in check by the dog-eat-dog competition at work in the market economy. Companies, after all, could eventually be held in check by other companies, while government bureaucrats could swath themselves in fanciful rhetoric about the public interest and the common good. In his determination to cut through the bogus and self-serving language that attends to so many attempts to arrogate power to the state, Buchanan has always reminded me of another great, old, and recently departed libertarian giant, Thomas Szasz.

Our heroes have to die sometime, I suppose, and lord knows folks such as Buchanan contributed far more to the world than they ever took out, but it's always a dark day when they breathe their last.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    WHO WROTE THIS?

    You know, President Obama earned his Nobel through being a champion of peace while this joker sounds like he got his by spewing his teabagger bull crap. The standards they had back then, I tell you.

  • ||

    Mayans make a calendar that does not go on forever and everyone freaks the hell out...Buchanan accurately predicts the the failure of government and everyone including Tulpa shrugs and votes for Obama/Romney.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    He should have given a specific date.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    I LOOM LARGE

    Bring back the blink tag.

  • Boba||

    Yes, I had the opportunity of spending last weekend listening to the learned ones of his profession. At one point, I just gave up and started drinking. One can only take so much of the brilliant theoretical research. I tried to strike up conversations with the a couple of the libertarian exhibitors but only the Objectivist decided to engage. I scored a free book.

    If things had turned out differently, U of Virginia Economics department had at one time a very interesting list of faculty and a number of PhD pass through their doors and may have made a name for itself the way some other departments have. Of course, any mention of heterodox economics instantly refers socialist or marxist crap never mind that the people challenging the some of the basic tenets of the field are libertarian leaning.

  • A Serious Man||

    Dr. Buchanan partly blamed Keynesian economics for what he considered a decline in America’s fiscal discipline. John Maynard Keynes argued that budget deficits were not only unavoidable but in fiscal emergencies were even desirable as a means to increase spending, create jobs and cut unemployment. But that reasoning allowed politicians to rationalize deficits under many circumstances and over long periods, Dr. Buchanan contended

    What's funny is that libtards cite Paul Krugman as an authority on the Gospel truthiness of this matter and always reference the fact that he has a Nobel Prize, completely ignoring the fact that his Nobel had absolutely nothing to do with macro econ and instead was about new trade theory.

    Conversely, Nobel laureate Thomas Sargent won his for his work in macro and he contends that stimulus doesn't work.

  • iggy||

    ^ Boom. This is incredibly common with the left though. If you are an expert in ANY FIELD and you are a liberal, they will treat you like you're an expert in every field.

    How else do you explain how Noam Chomsky, a fucking linguist, and Howard Zinn, a playwrite, are treated like their opinions on economics have any value?

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Well, give credit to Chomsky for being a social scientist. Not too much, but just enough to separate him from Zinn, who was basically talking well beyond his scope of understanding.

  • Sevo||

    In CA, we have a stand-up comic who found his true calling in the CA legislature.
    Problem is, it's TRUE! He fits right in!

  • Brandybuck||

    Chomsky is a damned good linguist and one of the greats in the field. But his politics are puerile and illogical. He's a self-described anarchist who wants the government involved in nearly every aspect of daily life. Huh?

    It's the curse of intelligence. Dumb people know they're dumb and will seek out the advice of experts, but smart people don't understand that they're also dumb outside of their areas of training and education, and are less likely to seek out the advice of experts. Chomsky is a perfect example of this. If you want to see it in action yourself, just attend a Mensa meeting. You will rarely encounter a higher concentration of stupidity.

  • iggy||

    Also, Thomas Sargent is a lifelong Democrat. Based on what I've read, he apparently isn't particularly political, but this is not exactly some hardcore right winger attacking the value of stimulus.

    Yet, because he disagrees with the left, his credentials and arguments are irrelevant and he shall be ignored.

  • Sevo||

    "What's funny is that libtards cite Paul Krugman as an authority on the Gospel truthiness of this matter and always reference the fact that he has a Nobel Prize, completely ignoring the fact that his Nobel had absolutely nothing to do with macro econ and instead was about new trade theory."

    Nor do they ever mention that for all the love of Keynesian econ, it's never been applied.
    A government has to run a surplus in good times to do so, and that has never happened.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but my layperson definition of Keynesian economics is "an accounting scheme designed to give poor people just enough money to buy things they can't ultimately afford." Maybe it helps cushion the fall during the bad times, but ulimately the electorate can't get enough of the easy money, so they continue to elect the Keynesians back into office.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    You're wrong.

    Keynes theory was to run the gubmint like a household. Save some money when times are flush and use those savings to cover expenses when time are tight.

    And inflation is always good!

    Yeah, it's incoherent bullshit, but it's more rational than applied Keynesianism with is always spend moar.

  • Tak Kak||

    "Keynes theory was to run the gubmint like a household. Save some money when times are flush and use those savings to cover expenses when time are tight."

    No, not quite.

    Keynes theory specifically said that the analogy between the "gubmit" and household was false. The key difference being access to the printing press.

    And that the government (G) could and should spend (whether it had the savings or not) to get output (Y) back up.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Yeah, but he also said that government spending should be counter cyclical. Which is analogous to household savings.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    A government has to run a surplus in good times to do so, and that has never happened.

    Because Dumbya insisted on running huge deficits during his good times. When things went to shit he ran more deficits.

    Contrast with Clinton 1999-2000.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Bush entered office during a period when there was unncertainty by whether the late 90s tech boom was busting or whether it was going to bust. True, he pushed for tax cuts, partly as a way to stave off the economic downturn, but his response was profoundly Keynesian in nature. Hence, the record deficit spending and Cheney's remark that "deficits don't matter."

  • Caleb Turberville||

    I might be confused on my fiscal history, but believe tax cuts combined with deficit spending was something Kennedy's economic advisors suggested in the wake of the late 50s recession.

  • iggy||

    Still think people here are pro-Bush, huh Shrike?

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    No, I don't. But I know many are Team Red GOP - which is the same outcome each time. High spending and high deficits.

    See also, Romney, Willard.

  • iggy||

    See also, Obama, Barack.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    "Bush, he warn't no good. But ole Mike Huckabee -he is the real thang"

    Team Red.

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug| 1.9.13 @ 9:08PM |#
    "Bush, he warn't no good. but I can invent all sorts of lies for Team Blue"

    Go away, asshole. You're cheerleading is embarrassing.

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug| 1.9.13 @ 8:53PM |#
    "Because Dumbya insisted on running huge deficits during his good times. When things went to shit he ran more deficits.
    Contrast with Clinton 1999-2000."

    No, it's cause you can't post without lying.
    Clinton never ran a surplus, asshole. He ran a current-balance surplus. Commonly, idiots like you claim to be in good shape since that $50K credit card balance can be continued at $10/month.
    Oh, and how's your fave Obuttplug doing?
    What an ignoramus.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Clinton never had a budget surplus.

  • Redmanfms||

    I love that you think we're all fans of Bush here fuckwit.

    BTW, there was no "surplus" during the Clinton years, it was smoke and mirrors bullshit that conveniently ignored fucking massive entitlement outlays.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    "He was like the Batman of great economists..."

    So, I should expect to spot him in a cafe in Florence, Italy after his supposed "death"?

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Which makes Krugnuts Catwoman.

  • waaminn||

    Sounds like a pretty solid plan to me man, Wow.

    www.BigAnon.tk

  • warmood||

    She added: 'For me, doing swim, it's the best part of being a Victoria's Secret Angel
    Sexy bikini because I love the sun and the ocean.

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