Gordon Tullock

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Gordon Tullock
Gordon tullock.jpg
Tullock in 2007
Born(1922-02-13)February 13, 1922
DiedNovember 3, 2014(2014-11-03) (aged 92)
Nationality United States
Institution George Mason University
Field Law and economics
Public choice theory
School or
Public Choice school
Alma mater University of Chicago
Influences Henry Calvert Simons
Duncan Black
Ludwig von Mises
Contributions Rent-seeking
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

Gordon Tullock ( /ˈtʌlək/ ; February 13, 1922 – November 3, 2014) was an economist and professor of law and Economics at the George Mason University School of Law. He is best known for his work on public choice theory, the application of economic thinking to political issues. He was one of the founding figures in his field. [1]


Early life and education

A native of Rockford, Illinois and graduate of Rockford Central High School, Tullock attended the University of Chicago and, after a break for military service during World War II, received a J.D. in 1947. Following a brief period in private practice, he joined the Foreign Service that fall. After completing training, he was posted to Tianjin, China, later receiving Chinese language instruction at Yale and Cornell and follow-on postings to Hong Kong and Korea. He resigned from the Foreign Service in 1956. [2] While he originally intended to pursue a career as a foreign trader in the Far East, his work on The Politics of Bureaucracy eventually led him to begin collaboration with James M. Buchanan at the University of Virginia while Tullock worked at the University of South Carolina teaching international studies. [3]

Academic career

Tullock's collaboration with Buchanan produced The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy (1962), which quickly became a seminal work in the new field of public choice. He later joined Buchanan as a faculty colleague at Virginia. For four years Buchanan and Tullock continued their research program, even founding a new journal for their field (1966), first called Papers in Non-Market Economics and eventually titled Public Choice, where they invited articles applying economic theory to all sorts of non-market phenomena, especially in the realm of government and politics. Despite the success of the book and the journal, disagreements with the UVA administration eventually led Tullock to leave.

In 1967, Tullock identified many of the concepts of what came to be known as rent-seeking in a seminal paper. [4]

Tullock moved to Virginia Polytechnical Institute (VPI, now called Virginia Tech) in 1968 and was joined by Buchanan a year later. There they continued the Public Choice Society and the journal, of which Tullock remained editor until 1990. At VPI, Tullock wrote a number of influential articles and books, including Private Wants, Public Means (1970), The Logic of the Law (1971), The Social Dilemma (1974), and The Vote Motive (1976).

In 1983, Tullock and the Center for Study of Public Choice moved to George Mason University, at the time a relatively unknown school in Fairfax, Virginia. Tullock taught at GMU from 1983–1987 and at the University of Arizona from 1987–1999. He continued to publish widely (more than 150 papers and 23 books in all), including "The Economics of Wealth and Poverty" (1986), Autocracy (1987), Rent Seeking (1993), The Economics of Non-Human Societies (1994) and On Voting: A Public Choice Approach (1998). In 1999 he returned to George Mason as a professor of law and economics, where he retired in 2008.

Rent seeking

Tullock developed a theory referred to as rent-seeking. Rent seeking, according to public choice theory, is securing profits through the political process rather than the market process of exchange. An example of rent seeking is when a firm, union, or special-interest group lobbies political actors (e.g. politicians or bureaucrats) to influence legislation in a beneficial manner. This can lead to moral hazard when politicians make policy decisions based on the lobby instead of the efficiency of the policy.

Tullock also formulated and considered the Tullock paradox, namely, the paradox of why rent-seeking is so cheap.

Tullock's spike

The name "Tullock's spike" refers to a thought experiment in which Tullock suggested that if governments were serious about reducing road casualties, they should mandate that a sharp spike be installed in the center of each car's steering wheel, to increase the probability that an accident would be fatal to the driver. Tullock's idea was that the normal process of risk compensation would then lead to safer driving by the affected drivers, thereby actually reducing driving fatalities. [5] [6]

Awards and recognition

In 1994 Tullock was awarded an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and in 1998 became a distinguished fellow of the American Economic Association. He served as President of the Southern Economic Association, the International Atlantic Economic Society (1998–1999), the Western Economic Association and the Public Choice Society. In 1996 he was elected to the American Political Science Review Hall of Fame. He was sometimes considered a longshot candidate for the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. [7]


His book, The Politics of Bureaucracy, has been criticized for overlooking a substantial body of literature. [8] A number of authors have criticized Tullock and the public choice tradition as being too simplistic in its explanation of political behavior. [9]


On November 3, 2014, Tullock died at the age of 92 in Des Moines. [10] [11]

Related Research Articles

Logrolling is the trading of favors, or quid pro quo, such as vote trading by legislative members to obtain passage of actions of interest to each legislative member. In organizational analysis, it refers to a practice in which different organizations promote each other's agendas, each in the expectation that the other will reciprocate. In an academic context, the Nuttall Encyclopedia describes logrolling as "mutual praise by authors of each other's work".

Political economy Study of production and trade and their relations with law, custom and government

Political economy is the study of production and trade and their relations with law, custom and government; and with the distribution of national income and wealth. As a discipline, political economy originated in moral philosophy, in the 18th century, to explore the administration of states' wealth, with "political" signifying the Greek word polity and "economy" signifying the Greek word οἰκονομία. The earliest works of political economy are usually attributed to the British scholars Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, and David Ricardo, although they were preceded by the work of the French physiocrats, such as François Quesnay (1694–1774) and Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727–1781). There is also a tradition which is almost as long, of critique of political economy.

Public choice, or public choice theory, is "the use of economic tools to deal with traditional problems of political science". Its content includes the study of political behavior. In political science, it is the subset of positive political theory that studies self-interested agents and their interactions, which can be represented in a number of ways – using standard constrained utility maximization, game theory, or decision theory. It is the origin and intellectual foundation of contemporary work in political economy.

James M. Buchanan American economist

James McGill Buchanan Jr. was an American economist known for his work on public choice theory, for which he received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1986. Buchanan's work initiated research on how politicians' and bureaucrats' self-interest, utility maximization, and other non-wealth-maximizing considerations affect their decision-making. He was a member of the Board of Advisors of The Independent Institute as well as of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a member of the Mont Pelerin Society, a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute, and professor at George Mason University.

In economics, economic rent is any payment to an owner or factor of production in excess of the costs needed to bring that factor into production. In classical economics, economic rent is any payment made or benefit received for non-produced inputs such as location (land) and for assets formed by creating official privilege over natural opportunities. In the moral economy of neoclassical economics, economic rent includes income gained by labor or state beneficiaries of other "contrived" exclusivity, such as labor guilds and unofficial corruption.

Law and economics or economic analysis of law is the application of economic theory to the analysis of law that began mostly with scholars from the Chicago school of economics. Economic concepts are used to explain the effects of laws, to assess which legal rules are economically efficient, and to predict which legal rules will be promulgated. There are two major branches of law and economics. The first branch is based on the application of the methods and theories of neoclassical economics to the positive and normative analysis of the law. The second branch focuses on an institutional analysis of law and legal institutions, with a broader focus on economic, political, and social outcomes. This second branch of law and economics thus overlaps more with work on political institutions and governance institutions more generally.

Rent-seeking is the effort to increase one's share of existing wealth without creating new wealth. Rent-seeking results in reduced economic efficiency through misallocation of resources, reduced wealth-creation, lost government revenue, heightened income inequality, and potential national decline.

The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy is a book published by economists James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock in 1962. It is considered to be one of the classic works from the discipline of public choice in economics and political science. This work presents the basic principles of public choice theory.

Government failure, in the context of public economics, is an economic inefficiency caused by a government intervention, if the inefficiency would not exist in a true free market. It can be viewed in contrast to a market failure, which is an economic inefficiency that results from the free market itself, and can potentially be corrected through government regulation. The idea of government failure is associated with the policy argument that, even if particular markets may not meet the standard conditions of perfect competition required to ensure social optimality, government intervention may make matters worse rather than better.

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Bootleggers and Baptists

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Robert D. Tollison was an American economist who specialized in public choice theory.

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In economics, a government-granted monopoly and the monopoly to be served under government is a form of coercive monopoly by which a government grants exclusive privilege to a private individual or firm to be the sole provider of a good or service; potential competitors are excluded from the market by law, regulation, or other mechanisms of government enforcement. As a form of coercive monopoly, government-granted monopoly is contrasted with a coercive monopoly or an efficiency monopoly, where there is no competition but it is not forcibly excluded.

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Jeff Ray Clark Economist

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  1. Gordon L. Brady; Robert D. Tollison (1991). "Gordon Tullock: Creative Maverick of Public Choice". Public Choice. 71 (3): 141–48. doi:10.1007/BF00155733. JSTOR   30025503.
  2. Tullock, Gordon, Curriculum Vitae Archived 2010-06-07 at the Wayback Machine , October 2000. Retrieved on 2010-07-25.
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-17. Retrieved 2016-02-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. Tullock, Gordon (1967). "The Welfare Costs of Tariffs, Monopolies, and Theft". Western Economic Journal. 5 (3): 224–232. doi:10.1111/j.1465-7295.1967.tb01923.x. S2CID   154361951.
  5. Torchinsky, Jason. "There's Actually a Name for a Steering Wheel with a Big Spike in the Middle". Jalopnik. Retrieved 2017-01-23.
  6. Inglis-Arkell, Esther. "Would putting a spike in the middle of your steering wheel make you safer?". io9. Retrieved 2017-01-23.
  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-10-17. Retrieved 2011-09-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. Kaufman, H; Tullock, Gordon (December 1966). "The Politics of Bureaucracy". Administrative Science Quarterly. 11 (3): 488. doi:10.2307/2391168. JSTOR   2391168.
  9. Friedman, Jeffrey (1996). The Rational Choice Controversy: Economic Models of Politics.
  10. Gordon Tullock
  11. "Gordon Tullock Obituary, des Moines, IA".

Further reading