< My Slender Contribution


Jim Buchanan is a phenomenon. Throughout his work he seems to have

consciously tried to use the smallest amount of technique possible. Despite

having earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics, he has eschewed the

usual mathematical models and formal proofs. In direct contrast to the

professional fashions of his time, he has applied simple but reasoned

analysis to down-to-earth problems involving not only economics but also

politics, sociology, and human behavior. In doing so, he has established

himself as a trail blazer both because of the problems he has addressed

and the brilliant manner in which he has addressed them. He has founded a

new sub-discipline and won the Nobel Prize in the process. It is no secret

that for these very reasons he has incurred the disdain of many economists

who look down on problems of politics,psychology and sociology and who

concentrate on pure technique without substance.

The essence of Buchanan's genius is his ability to get to the heart

of a problem without circumlocution. When I arrived at Virginia Tech and

attended my first seminars with Jim in the audience, I was amazed at his

performance. Buchanan would make no attempt to dominate the seminar. During

the hour while the paper was being presented Jim sat with eyes

closed, apparently slumbering. Then - about fifteen minutes into the

question period - he would suddenly come to life. Regardless of how

complicated or obtuse the material might be, Buchanan always asked a

brilliant question which got to the heart of the seminar. Having made his

point, he would usually retire to the background once more, with eyes

closed, seemingly not listening to the proceedings around him. Suddenly near

the end of the seminar he would ask another question which seemed to

encapsulate and analyze the entire presentation. In my experience, Jim's

ability to do this segregates him from virtually all the economists of his


The presence of Buchanan and Gordon Tullock was the most important

factor causing me to leave Michigan State and join the faculty at Virginia

Tech in 1974. I never regretted having made that decision.. Prior to my

arrival in Blacksburg, I had been trained as a Keynesian and had had

liberal political leanings throughout my life. I thought that the

government should play a very large role in the economy and should --- as

part of that role--- frequently run a deficit in order to maintain full

employment and aid large segments of the economy. Over the years, however,

I have gradually come to agree more and more with the tenets propounded by

Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, Mancur Olson,and their intellectual heirs. I do

not believe that I would go nearly so far as Buchanan in reigning in

government; nevertheless he has taught me that government is not

omniscient, that government officials frequently look out after their own

welfare instead of the welfare of the people they govern, and that almost

always groups should be treated equally by the government. That is his

essential message, and it is well taken.

At the same time, it is important to realize that Buchanan is not

"to the right of Attila, the Hun, "as his opponents so often portray him. He

is not an anarchist nor is he a heartless partisan of the rich who would

have the government abandon all charity cases, allowing the poor and

helpless to die in the streets. He believes in a minimalist

government which would help those truly in need but at the same time reward

the industrious by allowing them to retain most of their earnings.

Unfortunately, although he has had considerable success in propagating his

Faith, it is still an open question as to whether his views ultimately will

be ascendant.

As I write this Buchanan is approaching his eightieth

birthday; yet he has the energy of a 40-year-old. He still regularly drives

the 200-mile trip between his residence in Fairfax and his farm near

Blacksburg. He also travels almost monthly to countries on all the

continents where he delivers papers and lectures and frequently receives

awards. I have not yet heard that he has made it to Antarctica, but such an

event would not astound me. At home in Blacksburg,he lives the life of a

country squire - - born to the mold. It is an amazing performance from an

amazing personality.

We must all take off our hats to the likes of Jim Buchanan.



Allan Mandelstamm