May, 2021

Gordon Tullock

Subjectivist Theorist of Law and Economics
  • 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) took only one academic degree, a J.D. from the University of Chicago in 1947. He leveraged that degree into a polymathic career where he made significant contributions to economics, law, political science, history, and biology, among other disciplines. Tullock was a subjectivist, for he sought to apprehend all social phenomena from the perspectives of the individuals whose actions generated those phenomena. In his subjectivism, Tullock’s subjectivism stands in sharp contrast to Richard Posner’s objectivist claim that the common law illustrates the relentless pursuit of economic efficiency. Tullock denied this claim even though he accepted the universality of the formal principle of economizing action. Tullock’s body of work illustrates how any analytical claim about societal consequences of legal practices necessarily rests on and is derived from some preceding set of conceptual presuppositions, about which choices exist. Such properties as “efficiency” are not facts that can be directly apprehended but are inferences derived from some particular theoretical framework.