January 19, 2015

Gordon Tullock: A Conspectus on His Life's Work

  • Richard Wagner

    Distinguished Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics and Economics
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Gordon Tullock (1922-2014) was a thinker par excellence. As with most thinkers, the tale of his life is told mostly through his scholarship. Accordingly, this essay reviews Tullock’s scholarship in such fields as public choice, law and economics, rent seeking, bureaucracy, social conflict, and non-human societies. Tullock is often cast as exemplifying a reductionist style of homo economicus reasoning. This is a severe misreading of Tullock, a caricature of Tullock. To the contrary, Tullock was a social theorist who thought in terms of interaction among heterogeneous agents who in no way reduced those agents to some representative agent. Tullock’s primary orientation was to theorize from inside his phenomena, in contrast to most social theorists who seek to theorize from some position outside their phenomena. Tullock was also a warm and sensitive man who was filled with a zest for whimsy, which is a quality that often accompanies highly creative people, though he sometimes had trouble directing that whimsy as he might have hoped.