With the passing of economist and scholar James McGill Buchanan on January 9, 2013, a voice of insight and understanding in a tumultuous world has been stilled.
Born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 1919, Buchanan built his understanding of how the world works with degrees from the University of Tennessee and the University of Chicago (the “Chicago School”). He taught at a number of universities from 1950 to 1969, after which he served as Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute — Virginia Tech — where he co-founded the Center for the Study of Public Choice. In 1983 he moved the center to George Mason University, where he served as emeritus professor until his death.
An author of more than 30 books and numerous articles, he was noted for his groundbreaking understanding in the area of public choice, the division of economic study that explored how elected and appointed political officials make decisions that often are contrary to the wishes of their constituents. He received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1986 for his work in that field from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences which stated,
Buchanan’s foremost achievement is that he has consistently and tenaciously emphasized the significance of fundamental rules [in public policy decision-making] and [considered] the political system as an exchange process for the achievement of mutual advantages [among the political players].
Buchanan expressed surprise at the committee’s announcement, noting, “I have faced a sometimes lonely and mostly losing battle of ideas for some 30 years now … My task has been to ‘uneducate’ the economists.”
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Photo of James M. Buchanan from 2000: AP Images