Akihito Udagawa, Ph.D., Professor, Faculty of Economics, Meikai University, Japan


"Good Days with Professor James M. Buchanan in Virginia, Europe and Japan"

1. My first visit to the Center for the Study of Public Choice

In October 1974, I came to Virginia as the first Japanese visitor to the Public Choice Center in VPI.

From Tokyo, through Chicago, to Ronoak, it was a long way. Interstate highway Route 81 took me to Blacksburg. The Appalachian mountains covered with yellow and red leaves fascinated me, a stranger to Virginia.

The next morning, I visited Professor Buchanan at the Public Choice Center in a building with a 19 century southern flavor. He shook my hand warmly. He provided me with a room on the second floor and a typist. I remember that the young staff of the center including professor Richard Wagner took me to the university dining room for lunch. I was happy to receive such hospitality from the first day.

On the day of the center’s dinner party for all members, I asked Professor Buchanan about the meaning of ‘public choice’, since my university in Japan had not subscribed for "Public Choice" yet, and in Japanese the word ’public’ had two meanings; ‘by or for people’ and ‘government oriented’. Professor Buchanan immediately wrote down an exact and short definition of the term in my pocket-notebook.

I was living alone in an apartment which Mrs. Betty Tillman had reserved before my arrival. She assisted me arranging a rent-a-car on the first day. She was kind enough to take care of me in many aspects of my life. We talked about many things. Shortly after my arrival, I became a friend of my neighbor. He took me to church every Sunday, and sometimes we went for a walk in the forest near our homes. On weekends, I enjoyed driving to West Virginia and North Carolina. One day, Mrs. Tillman told me that Professor Buchanan had said that I was a quick adjuster to the American way of life. I did not know whether I should take his comment as a compliment.

I came to Virginia on a Japanese governmental scholarship which allowed me to stay for two months. As I found the Public Choice Center very comfortable, I wished to extend my stay for another two months. I frankly told professor Buchanan my wish. He immediately handed me a written petition which successfully persuaded the government.

2. Learning Public Choice Theory in the Classroom

My main research before visiting the U.S. was the analysis of fiscal policy on the basis of macro-dynamics. Therefore, I was not familiar with public choice theory. Professor Buchanan advised me to attend his graduate class as well as Professor M. J. Hinich’s class on Public Choice. He also suggested I read The Fiscal Organization of American Federalism, 1971, authored by Professor Wagner, because he knew my interest was in public finance. In his class, Professor Buchanan referred to and commented on new articles which appeared in major economics journals. Professor Hinich used An Introduction to Positive Political Theory, 1972, authored by W. H. Riker and P.C. Oldshook as the text book for his class.

I obtained all the back numbers of "Public Choice". According to Professor Tullock, as many as 1,400 copies were circulated at that time.

I also obtained many books at the university bookstore. Among them were The Calculus of Consent, Private Wants, Public Means by Professor Tullock, An Economic Theory of Democracy by A. Downs, several volumes of books from the Public Choice Society and Monograph Series edited by Professor Tullock.

Meanwhile I came to know that Professor Buchanan was a very hard worker. He was always in his office, even on Saturdays. Professor Tullock was a very active discussant at the center’s academic meetings where guest speakers were invited. Among the speakers were Martin S. Feldstein and Edward Mishan. One day, Mishan visited my office and expressed curiosity when he found my English-Japanese dictionary.

Gradually, I got to know other staff including Charles Goetz, Robert Mackay and Warren Wagner.

3. Virginia Revisited

I returned to Japan in February 1975. Thereafter, I traced the works of public choice economists abroad while recalling the memory of days in Virginia. Finally, I wanted to present a paper at the annual meeting of the Public Choice Society to be held at Ronoak in Spring 1976. I asked Professor Buchanan about the possibility of presenting a paper. He not only accepted it, but also advised me to organize a session, gathering my Japanese friends. I asked K. Kurokawa, J. Yonehara, K. Tanaka to join me. Thus we had our session. To my surprise, big shots such as professors Buchanan, Tullock and Ostrom attended our session.

At the closing dinner of the meeting, Professor Buchanan introduced us to all attendants. It was a great honor for us to receive applause. Before leaving Ronoak, Professors Buchanan and Tullock permitted me to translate The Calculus of Consent into Japanese. The translators were the above mentioned session members. Later, Professor Buchanan sent us a lengthy and meaningful introduction specially written for Japanese version.

4. Attendance at the International Institute of Public Finance (IIPF)

For three years from 1977, I attended the IIPF. In 1977, I read "Special Tax Relief and Public Choice" at the conference held in Varna, Bulgaria. In 1978, I read "Comment on E. M. Sunley’s ‘Taxation and Regulation of Energy Supply and Consumption’ at the conference held in Taormina, Italy. Both papers were adopted in the Proceedings of the Conference edited by K. Haiiser and K.W. Roskamp & F. Forte, respectively.

In 1980, I also attended the IIPF, Hamburg conference. The main theme there was "Public Choice and Public Finance". Professor Buchanan gave the opening address. He stressed the importance of recognizing the difference between constitutional choice and current choice for both positive analysis and normative evaluation of fiscal policy. I think it was after this year that the public choice was accepted into the traditional public finance study.

5. Professor Buchanan in Japan

After my first visit to Blacksburg, we set up an organization, a Japanese branch of public choice, so to speak. Mr. Hiroshi Kato, a professor of economics at Keio University, had been interested in public choice approach and played an important role in the creation of the organization, especially from such aspects as fund raising and organizational manangement.

Later, this branch was reorganized into a new institution called the Japan Public Choice Society. The Society with over 100 membership is currently chaired by Professor K. Kurokawa of Hosei University.

In the early 1980’s, Professor Kato invited Professor and Mrs. Buchanan to Japan. Professor Buchanan gave lectures at Keio University, Yokohama National University, my former affiliation, and various other universities and organizations.

On one of his days off in Japan, upon his request we took him to a baseball batting practice ground where a machine pitched any speed of ball like a real baseball pitcher, according to a batter’s request. We were surprised to watch professor Buchanan easily hit balls as fast as 130 kilometers/ 81 miles per hour. He showed his toughness and power.

Professor Buchanan has visited Japan several time since then. After he received Nobel Prize in 1986, the Yomiuri, a Japanese newspaper, invited about ten Nobel laureates from a variety of fields. The intention of the Yomiuri was to stimulate young Japanese students to learn science. The Yomiuri selected Professor Buchanan as a representative of the field of economics. After the first day’s lectures by the Novel laureates, they held a banquet in a hotel. Both Japanese Emperor and the prime minister attended. I was invited by the Yomiuri to the banquet as an acquaintance of Professor Buchanan. While I was talking with professor Buchanan, the Emperor approached us: We had a short conversation. It was the only opportunity to talk with the Emperor I have ever had.

6. What I Should Do Now

Thirty years have passed since I began studying public choice. I have met many influential people and groups. Keeping close ties with them, I have learned what and how a scholar should. Especially from reading his books and papers, I found out that Professor Buchanan travelled a ‘pains taking’ way, as Professor A. Sen once wrote about him. Professor Buchanan also has taught us that we should do ‘Better than Plowing’.

I understand that the positive analysis and normative theory that has been accumulated in the field of public choice is applicable to any democracy.

I live in Asia. Naturally, I can not catch the every day politico-economic moves and surrounding atmosphere in the U.S. and Europe. My knowledge about American and European institutions is shallow and narrow. But I would like to make a contribution to the general study of public choice. I have reached the idea that I should take a comparative advantage of living in Asia.

Therefore, we should select the following problems and seek their solutions.

[1] Asian politico-economic societies are changing by the collective choice of people: The choices of the people are rational.

[2] Present social conditions in Asia and those of the Western World are the same in the sense that they are contemporary phenomena. The differences stem from the historical process.

[3] There is no question about the existence of democracy in the U.S. and Europe. It seems to me, however, the question whether or not the Western style of democracy should be adopted in Asia is still open. Present political situations in Asian countries are interesting subjects to be studied with the analytical tools of public choice.

[4] Even if the levels of democracy in Asian countries are considered to be immature, we have many social groups similar to those in the Western World; voters, political parties, bureaucrats and pressure groups. Since the relative weight in terms of the power of these groups is different, the consequential political equilibrium and the process to it are also different.

[5] In Asia, I think, the collective issues that people consider important and the issues people solved through the political process are biased toward economic concerns. This seems to me to stem from the characteristics of the utility functions of people in Asian economies. Most components of their utility are variables reflecting the conditions in developing economies, such as wage increase, high employment opportunity and price stability. In other words, the utility function is composed of one dimensional variables. Whether these factors are likely to be realized at high levels, in turn, depends on international trade and world-wide monetary movement as well as domestic policy. With this one dimensional characteristic of social and political issues, the policies that agents or groups must adopt in order to win the majority of votes must be limited in range. Under these conditions, we might conclude that political equilibrium will be efficient in terms of increases in welfare.

Anyway, research in this field, I hope, will be a valuable case study in public choice research. Asian successors to Professor Buchanan, including myself, hope to expand on the contributions he has made to public choice research.