Remembering Gordon Tullock

by Carolyn Darr on November 14, 2014

The Calculus of Consent

Gordon Tullock, one of the founding fathers of public choice theory, passed away November 4th at the age of 92. Originally intending to be a foreign trader, Tullock only took one economics class in his university studies, yet went on to completely change economic thinking by applying it to political issues. Along with his long time collaborator James Buchanan, Tullock produced The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy, a groundbreaking work in the new field of public choice.

Growing up in Rockford, Illinois, Tullock attended the University of Chicago where he earned a J.D. in 1947 after serving in the military for World War II. Shortly after the completion of his degree, Tullock joined the Foreign Service through which he spent time in locations such a China, Hong Kong, and Korea until he resigned in 1956. After this he began teaching international studies at the University of South Carolina where his work on The Politics of Bureaucracy began his collaboration with Buchannan and their revolutionary work on public choice theory culminating in The Calculus of Consent. Tullock went on to develop an economic theory known as rent seeking where wealth is spent on political lobbying with the intent of increasing one’s existing wealth without creating new wealth, creating reduced economic efficiency. Tullock continued to teach and further develop his theories until his retirement in 2008.

Offered in paperback by the University of Michigan Press, The Calculus of Consent uses the tools of economics and game theory to analyze problems of politics. Before this groundbreaking theory, it was rare to apply economic tools to non-market problems, but Tullock and Buchannan used economics to better understand and predict inefficiencies of the governmental process. Government is treated as a cooperative endeavor that people of differing interests elect to participate in with the goal of increasing their abilities to reach their separate objectives. Thus, politics is reduced to the simple question of efficiency or which set of governmental institutions will best serve the individual ends of each citizen. A work of great originality and significance, The Calculus of Consent is an important theoretical document that made great strides toward formulating a scientific theory of democracy. Thank you Gordon Tullock, for all your innovative work.

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