James M. Buchanan Jr.

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WHO IS James M. Buchanan Jr.

James M. Buchanan Jr. was an American economist and winner of the 1986 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his contributions to public choice theory.

BREAKDOWN James M. Buchanan Jr.

James M. Buchanan Jr. was born in Tennessee in 1919 and received his doctorate. from the University of Chicago.

He taught at the University of Virginia from 1956 to 1968, at UCLA from 1968 to 1969, then at Virginia Tech from 1969 to 1983, where he founded the Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy. He then taught at George Mason University where he finally retired with emeritus status.

During his career, Buchanan was also a member of the advisory committee of the Independent Institute, member and former president of the Mont Pelerin Society, and emeritus emeritus of the Cato Institute. With economist Gordon Tullock, he wrote the well-known book “The Calculation of Consent”, which presents the basic principles of public choice theory and is considered to be one of the classic works in the discipline of public choice in political science and economics. Buchanan died in 2020 at the age of 93.

Public choice theory

Buchanan is known for being the architect of public choice theory, which applies economics to political decision-making. Public choice theory challenges conventional wisdom that politicians act in the best interest of their constituents and instead analyzes how incentives shape politicians’ choices to act in their own interest. Buchanan’s work has launched additional research into how politicians’ self-interest, utility maximization and other non-maximal monetary considerations affect their decision-making.

Buchanan’s knowledge of human nature and political results provides a better understanding of the incentives that motivate political actors and allows for more accurate predictions of political decision-making. In public choice theory, voters, legislators and bureaucrats are not just supposed to always act in the best public interest, but also to make political decisions with personal gain in mind. Buchanan’s public choice theory is often seen as “politics without romance”.

Public choice theory is closely linked to social choice theory, which is a mathematical approach to the combined variables of individual interests and how these interests affect voter behavior. Economist Kenneth Arrow developed the theory of social choice, which is explained in his 1951 book “Social Choices and Individual Values”. Because the behavior of voters influences the behavior of politicians, the theory of public choice is often based on the theory of social choice. Both theories are classified in the study of public economics.

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