Ogden O. Allsbrook, Jr. Athens, Georgia and Wilmington, North Carolina, University of Georgia (retired)

Influence of J. M. Buchanan on a Noetic Miscellanist

 

As a noetic miscellanist, my views of the contribution of James M. Buchanan to economic science embrace his influence on this less than intellectually potent graduate student.

When I reached Charlottesville in Fall 1962, I enlisted in Public Finance, (Buchanan) Price Theory (Warren G. Nutter), Monetary Theory (Leland B. Yeager) and Mathematics for Economists (Wm. Craig Stubblebine). Still in contact with faculty from college days, I reported this schedule of classes to one of them, the late Charles M. Ramsey (Wake Forest College). He was familiar only with James Buchanan.

And so it was that I began an earnest interest in the techniques and subject matter of my mentor.

From the beginning course (Econ 131, I believe) to the capstone course (Econ 231r) and through the doctoral dissertation, Jim Buchanan became the intellectual role model for this aspirant to the world of academe.

The influences that Buchanan provided can be divided into two classes:

the mental and the physical. In the former area, he fostered a complex Socratic method of instruction requiring a thorough investigation of the background of a question in search of answers. In class we reported on individual paths to seek truths resolving the question. The range of responses varied from the sublime (Charles J. Goetz) to the ridiculous (one whose response was the invariable " I donít have anything to contribute on this topic"). In class, the mood was electric, but composed. When Buchanan entered, the process of inquiry began. It was formal, correct, and encouraging. At all times, it was understood that his method was the most efficient way to lift us expeditiously to the frontier of public economics. That thought is still foremost today.

In the physical area, I sensed then, even within the confines of a seminar-style class, that Jim Buchanan contained a presence that could have been paramount in practical public affairs. My sense was vindicated in 1964 in Roanoke, Virginia, when Buchanan delivered the Presidential Address at the Southern Economic Association annual meetings. His ability to address a large group of professionals so powerfully was proof that, in his case, absolute advantage extends over both mental and physical capacities. It is also a remembrance that at a faculty-student softball game at McIntire Park in Charlottesville, once at bat, Jim Buchanan hit the solo home run.

Finally, as a writer and as a logical positivist, Buchanan has guided this humble contributor to levels never foreseen. As a neophyte teaching assistant at Virginia, I became convinced that my comparative advantage was in instruction rather that research. But as I became a member of the academy, it became clear that research was essential to maintain and even advance position. From Buchanan I learned clearly the beauty of levity in prose. Many times I recall receiving the comment "wordy" on my public finance papers. How glad I am for them. From Buchanan I also learned the importance of skepticism and critical analysis of authority. Once when I was laboriously taking notes from Pigouís classic work and sought guidance, Buchanan advised me to focus as much on what other writers have said about Pigou. Today , this advice still enables me to apply the logical positivist position to the fundamental precepts of individual liberty in any question of public policy, fiscal or monetary.

Last, if I may, reminisce about the summer of 1964, when Betty Tillman approached me to ask if I would consider residing in the Buchanan home at 38 Canterbury Road while Jim and Ann were traveling in Europe. A part of the duties would be to attend to Spot and Kitty-cat. I agreed and coordinated my stay with Holly Hegg from Washington, D. C. who stayed until I was free from my position as faculty advisor to the Bonnycastle Dormitory for undergraduate students. Aside from the generous advice from Miss Hegg and the neighborly friendship of Jim and Marguerite Ballard, the summer was memorable for two unrelated reasons. First, and most importantly, I wrote my doctoral dissertation from the research notes gathered earlier. Jim had left an itinerary with me whereby rough drafts of chapters could be mailed. And like clockwork, as the chapters flowed, Jimís mailgrams returned with suggestions which were heeded. Secondly, one summer morning. I was awakened earlier than usual by the barking of Spot. As I opened the door, the effluvium of essence of skunk overpowered me. Spot had become an outcast, albeit temporarily. When Jim and Ann returned, at the end of summer, all was back to normal, and I had had the privilege of reposing in a most productive environment.