James Buchanan

James Buchanan
  • Discipline: Advisory General Director of the James M. Buchanan Center for Political Economy
  • Organization: George Mason University

James M. Buchanan, Advisory General Director of the James M. Buchanan Center for Political Economy and Harris University Professor of Economics at George Mason University, is best known as a founding father of "public choice economics." The essence of public choice economics is that government officials are motivated not solely by considerations of "public interest," but are also motivated by their own personal interests when making decisions. Public officials respond to economic incentives, just like everyone else. Therefore it should come as no surprise that public officials seek to increase their budgets and enlarge their domains, even if doing so has no relationship to public benefit. For drawing attention to these ground-breaking insights Buchanan, the scion of a Tennessee farming family, received the 1986 Nobel Prize for Economic Science.

Buchanan's intellectual contribution to this development came in the form of an impressive collection of major articles and books, the most famous of which wasCalculus of Consent (1962), authored with fellow economist Gordon Tullock (a renowned academic also closely associated with public choice theory). This book looks at U.S. politics using economic theory as a sort of lens, and studies the relationship between the rules laid down by a political constitution and decision-making by individuals living under that particular constitution.

Buchanan earned his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1948. He received a bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University in 1940 and a master's degree in economics in 1941 from the University of Tennessee. He served in the Navy for four years before returning to graduate school; during that time, he received a Bronze Star for distinguished service.

George Mason University is home to the James M. Buchanan Center for Political Economy, which promotes an interdisciplinary approach study of economics, law, and the humanities. Also located at GMU is Buchanan House, which houses the personal papers of Prof. Buchanan.

Humane Studies Review Works

  • Feature Essay - "Hayek and the Forces of History," by James Buchanan