In memory of Gordon Tullock

As I watched last week’s election returns, my mind numbed to the TV pundits droning on in the background. At the time it looked like the Republicans would win control of the Senate, although it wasn’t certain. Virginia and North Carolina were “too close to call.” The Florida governor’s race was still up in the air. Louisiana was headed for a runoff. Then that droning shifted from eager anticipation to more esoteric questions about, “What have we learned?” or “How do voters feel?”

Who cares?

I say this not to suggest this recent election didn’t matter, or that new leadership in Congress can’t bring about positive change. I say it because there are bigger things than politics.

I say it to honor a former colleague who died last week—ironically, on the eve of a midterm election that, as it turned out, altered the political landscape and will influence the 2016 race for the White House.

Ironic because that man was Gordon Tullock, co-founder of the public choice school of economics. And if you knew him and his gruff personality, “who cares” is exactly what he’d say.

Lots can be said about Gordon—that “shoulda been” a co-Nobel prize winner in economics, along with his co-author and George Mason University colleague James Buchanan. Yet, Gordon’s tendency to speak his mind—combined with the fact that the academic purists on the 1985 selection committee found his lack of a PhD unforgiveable—probably cost him joining that hallowed club. If you want a list of his bona fides, see: No reason for me to rehash what should already be known about him.

Gordon’s office—we called it “Gordon’s Grotto”—was a spacious thing. The “I Voted” sticker on his office door never failed to bring a chuckle to anybody walking by who knew something of public choice. Gordon once said, “Anthony Downs convinced me long ago that I stand a greater chance of being killed in a car accident on the way to the polls than I do of making a difference with my vote.”

Even after Florida’s hanging chads and eventual Supreme Court decision put George W. Bush in the White House, when it most seemed an individual’s vote could sway a major election, Gordon stuck to his guns. He always believed he’d make more of a difference with his pen than with pushing a lever. That multiple generations of economists have preached his message to hundreds of thousands students are …read more    

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