IDEAS DO HAVE CONSEQUENCES!...
Coskun Can Aktan
Professor of Public Finance
Dokuz Eylul University/Turkey
"My aims are limited. My tools are words that enter arguments presented in books, essays, and lectures, arguments that develop quasi-abstract ideas which challenge the minds of those who are members of the academies... My own experience... tells me that ideas do have consequences."
James M. Buchanan1
I am honored to write a short note on occasion of the 80th birthday of James M. Buchanan. In this short paper, I will try to write how Professor Buchanan has influenced my writings and also his dominance and credit in Turkish acedemia and politics.
Honestly and frankly, I would say that I discovered Professor Buchanan myself. Unfortunately, I was not aware of Buchanan and his writings when I was an undergraduate student. I took a Public Finance course at the undergraduate level, where no detailed account of the contribution of professor Buchanan was given. While I was taking courses for my masterís degree, I tried to read his Public Finance (co-authored with Marilyn Flowers) and Public Finance and Democratic Process: Fiscal Institutions and Individual Choice with my poor English. His textbook was quite interesting for me, because of his challenging ideas to the orthodox theory of public finance. I thought that he was an "unorthodox" economist. In 1986, he was awarded with the Nobel prize in Economics Science. Afterwards, I read more news and articles about him.
While I was taking courses for my Ph.D., I started to read professor Buchananís other studies. Unfortunately, the university library was terrible, but fortunately, there was an American Library at that time in Izmir. The library was small and very well organized. I had found several more books of professor Buchanan at that library. I met with the interesting ideas about the political decision making process by reading his books.
I started to study on my dissertation while I was taking courses. I had talked with my supervisor and convinced him that I wanted to write my dissertation on the supply-side economics, which was a hot topic at that time. I had gotten unofficial approval from my supervisor and I started to collect reading materials on the supply side economics. Everyone was talking about the Laffer Curve at that time. But, after I read his several papers on the Laffer effect2, I thought that the Laffer effect was a naive approach to explain a good tax system. Then, I started to read Buchananís writings on tax constitution.
During my doctoral study, I tried to find a fellowship to visit the Center for Study of Public Choice, where he was a General Director. I was successful to get a grant from the Turkish Higher Education Board. I wrote a letter to Professor Buchanan requesting an acceptance letter to study at the Center. In only three weeks, I got two letters from the Center, one from professor Buchanan and the other from Professor Viktor Vanberg, who was visiting scholar program coordinator.
In November 1987, I went to America and stayed at the Center for Study of Public Choice for a year and a half. I met with Professor Buchanan and his colleagues at the Center. I have great admiration and a deep respect for him. I was lucky to stay with Betty Tillman, who has been his secretary for more than 30 years.
I had another chance to stay at the Center, for an academic year between 1994-1995. I worked very hard to broaden my horizons and expand my knowledge. No doubt that I got a great vision from Professor Buchananís writings. I had a very limited knowledge on Philosophy and Ethics. I started to read on philosophy and ethics. I started to think that not only an interdisciplinary approach, but also interdisciplinary studies were necessary to have a good vision.
Vision, yes...But, what about the mission!... Vision is something that you get personal benefit, and no spillover to others unless you are a writer or a speaker at the audiences. Here, I would like to say that I like very much the concepts of Vision, Mission, Strategy and Action. I decided to carry over the new and creative ideas of Buchanan and other public choice scholars to the Turkish academia and politics. I determined my mission, strategy and action. At the academia, I worked with the young scholars very closely. I became doctoral supervisor to many students and motivated them to work hard in the field of Public Choice and Constitutional Economics. When I look back, I can see now more than 10 high quality doctoral dissertations were written and defended successfully. Right now, one Ph.D. student of mine is writing a dissertation specifically on "The Contributions of James M. Buchanan to the Political Economy."
I worked very closely with the NGOís, which are a very powerful channel moving ideas to the political arena. I always thought that academics should have a moral obligation to criticize the ongoing politics and recommend alternative reforms for the political decision making process.
With this idea, I published several books ( Optimal Government, Economic Constitution, Reinventing Government in a Changing World etc.) together with the NGOís.
I do believe that professor Buchananís ideas had Ėand still have- a great impact to change of the World. We live in a century in which great transformations have occurred and the winds of change have been continuing. No doubt that no winds of change occur without ideas. As professor Buchanan noted in the quotation that I put to the beginning of this paper "ideas do have consequences."
One of the founding fathers of the new management philosophy, Dr.Edwards Deming wrote in his book entitled New Economics for Industry, Government, Education: "Transformation requires profound knowledge."3
Buchananís "profound knowledge" and his commitment to the work ethic has had an enormous effect on the radical reforms in the United States, in Europe and in the developing nations. Turkey is a good example of that.
Of course, change is difficult and takes time. But we all come to accept that in the long run ideas are very powerful to achieve the change.
Buchanan: A Deep Thinking Scholar
It may take many years to read Professor Buchanan writings. His biographical data4 shows that he has authored some 30 books and countless numbers of articles and monographs. He has contributed to many areas of the social sciences. He started his academic career with Public Finance. His first book was Public Principles of Public Debt published in 1958. Since then he has published many studies and became the founding father of a new research field called Public Choice and Constitutional Economics.
My purpose here is to give some examples from other economists and political scientists, who reviewed some of the books and articles of professor Buchanan. It should be noted that many books and articles have been written on Buchanan to date.
As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which announced the Nobel award, noted
"... James M. Buchanan has devoted himself to development of the contractual and constitutional bases for the theory of economic and political decision making. In so doing, he has become the leading researcher in the field which has come to be known as 'public choice theory'."5
Anthony B. Atkinson, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science reviewed his studies and wrote:
"Buchananís work has been marked by the highest standards of scholarship from the very beginning, his writing exhibited an impressively wide knowledge of the writing of his predecessors in the field."6
Charles K. Rowley, a dedicated scholar to the classical liberal philosophy also writes:
"Buchananís research program has consistently pursued the underpinnings of consent in politics over a career so far spanning some forty years... He has changed the vision of the state almost single-handedly...and he has done so when economics was apparently forever captured by constructive rationalism. This is a remarkable achievement."7
Professor Thomas Romer in his article entitled "On James Buchananís Contributions to Public Economics" remarks that:
"Buchananís work has displayed a remarkable consistency of theme and outlook over the career. The emphasis on the individualistic view of the state, the focus on government as an exchange nexus, the concern over constitutional rules and their practical outcomes, the influence of the work of Knut Wicksell Ėthese are all present from his earliest writings."8
Viktor Vanberg, a German scholar, who published studies both on Buchanan and Friedrich A. Von Hayek, concluded in one of his papers:
"Buchanan and Hayek have helped to shape an analytically powerful general conception of social order that offers new prospects for a theoretically integrated social science, a modern political economy."9
Agnar Sandmo, a Norwegian scholar notes that:
"James Buchanan is without doubt one of the most influential economists of our time. As the main founder of the field of public choice or the new political economy he has created a new approach to the study of public economics and economic policy. The effects of his efforts and those of his many collaborators Ė among whom of course Gordon Tullock is the most outstanding- are striking. Public choice has come to be recognized as a distinct approach to the study of economic policy and has been developed by a large number of researchers both in the United States and in the rest of the world."10
A British scholar Gareth Locksley wrote that:
"Buchanan has been the dominant figure in the developments (of public choice). Eschewing empty theorizing he has sought to construct and indicate forms of political order that channel individualís self-interested behavior towards the common good."11
One of the famous public choice scholars Dennis Mueller also notes:
"...One of he most impressive features of his research has been the sheer number of seminal contributions he has made, the number of topics for research that can be traced back to a basic paper or book by James Buchanan."12
Professor Roger Congleton in his review article notes that:
"He has written in numerous fields outside of public economics, and, while his work has consistently emphasized an individualistic methodology."13
All of these remarks acknowledge that Professor Buchanan has contributed greatly to the Economics, Political Science and other related sciences.
His analyses of topics are related with many a research agenda of the social sciences. He is the founding father of the Public Choice Economics and Constitutional Political Economy. He has contributed many topics of the theory of public finance (taxation, public debt, public debt, externalities etc.)
To me, he is a deep thinking scholar of this century.
He is one of the most creative social scientist of our time.
He is an idealist and constructive rationalist and contractarian, for he believes that we all can construct the good rules for a free and a just society.
He is a constitutionalist, in that he proposes that we should adopt new constitutional constraints on the power of the government.
He is a believer in free society. Throughout his academic career he tried to answer to this question: "How can individuals live in social order while preserving their own liberties."14
He has consistently advocated an individualistic society.
He has devoted himself to the development of the individualistic, contractual and constitutional bases for the theory of political decision making process.
He is a highly productive writer, being the author or co-author of several dozens of books and countless dozens of articles. Many of his books and articles have been translated into other languages.
He is an incredibly hard worker. He is now at the age of 80. He is very productive and is still working very hard. He is a believer in the work ethic. Here are his words that express his own ideas on work ethic:
"Why is work good, and why is loafing bad? Let us think about this a little... I want to ask why work is good in and of itself and apart from any future effects on the person who chooses to work or to loaf. That is to say the word 'good' in the way I want to use it here implies that my choice benefits others in the community, that work is externally evaluated in a positive way, whereas loafing is somehow evaluated negatively... There is ethical content in the work-leisure choice of the individual, that the traditional folk wisdom is indeed correct, that we may legitimately and on the basis of a rational choice calculus deem work to be praiseworthy and loafing to be blameworthy."15
He was awarded with some 10 honorary doctorates by many universities and other institutions from all over the world.
There is no doubt that he is one of the great thinkers who have changed the vision of the state. Many countries now discuss his ideas widely both in the academic and political circles. One can see that his proposals for constitutional reform are being put into effect both in developed and developing countries.
A great man, a great philosopher...
We owe you much and I do believe that next generations will always owe you much more than our time because we hope that they will live in freedom, peace and welfare.
His ideas have changed the world. He is one of the intellectual leaders of the ongoing change and sweeping reforms throughout the world.
Without doubt that he is one of the most influential economists of our century.
1James M. Buchanan, "Nobelity", (Unpublished paper, presented at a special lucheon session of the Eastern Economic Association, Baltimore, Maryland, 4 March 1989).
2The articles were: James M. Buchanan and Dwight Lee, "Tax Rates and Tax Rates in Political Equilibrium: Some Simple Analytics", Economics Inquiry, vol 20, No 3, July 1982; James M. Buchanan and Dwight Lee, "Politics, Time and the Laffer Curve", Journal of Political Economy, vol 90, August 1992.
3W. Edwards Deming, The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, 1993. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1993. P.94.
4Available on internet: see: http://www.gmu.edu/departments/economics/Vitas/Buchanan.htm
5Press Release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, "The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics 1986," Scandanavian Journal of Economics, vol 89, No 1, 1987. P.2.
6Anthony B. Atkinson, "James M. Buchanan's Contributions to Econoomics," Scandanavian Journal of Economics, vol 89, No 1, 1987. P.2.
7Charles K. Rowley, "The Economic Philosophy of James McGill Buchanan," Journal of Public Finance and Public Choice, 1987/3. P.185.
8Thomas Romer, "On James Buchanan's Contributions to Public Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol 2, No 4, Fall 1988. P.167.
9Viktor Vanberg, "J.M. Buchanan and F.A. Hayek, 'The Thought of Two Nobel Laureates'," Market Process, vol 5, No 1, Spring 1987. P.3.
10Agnar Sandmo, "Buchanan on Political Economy -- A Review Article," Journal of Economic Literature, vol XXVIII, March 1990. P.50.
11Gareth Locksley, "Individuals, Contracts and Constitutions: The Political Economy of James M. Buchanan," in: Twelve Contemporary Economists, Eds. J.R. Schakleton and G. Locksley, London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1981.
12Dennis Mueller, "Mueller on Buchanan," in: Contemporary Economists in Perspective, Eds. William Breit and Kenneth G. Lezinga, Greenwich, Connecticut: JAI Press Inc., 1984. P.558.
13Roger D. Congleton, "An Overview of the Contractarian Public Finance of James Buchanan," Public Finance Quarterly, vol 16, No 2, April 1988. P.152.
14James M. Buchanan, "Virginia Political Economy: Some Personal Reflections," (Unpublished paper). P.23.
15James M. Buchanan, "On the Work Ethic," in: Essays on the Political Economy, Honolulu: University of Honolulu Press, 1989. P.49,51.