February, 2019

James Buchanan and the Properly Trained Economist

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Throughout his career, James Buchanan displayed a remarkable consistency regarding the didactic role of the properly trained economist. As he would say, it takes varied iterations to force alien concepts upon reluctant minds. What he regarded as the role of the properly trained economist is just a variation on his understanding of constitutional political economy. According to Buchanan, properly trained economists occupy dual, roles as economic scientists and political economists. As economic scientists they understand how spontaneous orders emerge as a result of self-interested behavior under alternative institutional arrangements. As political economists they may propose changes to existing institutions for the purpose of better facilitating the mutually shared goals among free and responsible individuals. Such proposals are not technical advice to a benevolent dictator, but conjectures about Pareto improvements to be tested through democratic deliberation. These related, but distinct, roles, have a non-normative and didactic basis, which is to teach citizens of a democratic society that there are opportunities for mutual gains from trade.