Oct 7, 2011

Is this Gordon Tullock's year for the Nobel Prize in Economics?

Why? He has an impressive publication record. Several of his contributions were very influential in the field of political-economy and political-science. He set up the "first stones" of Public Choice Theory with James Buchanan. A truly interdisciplinary scholar, and a defender of rational choice models of the world. 

What comes to mind when I think about Gordon Tullock is an image of him, sited on a chair at the Center for the Study of Public Choice during the weekly seminars. He sat there looking bothered and preoccupied by the ideas of whomever was presenting a paper. He seemed to be thinking so hard that his facial expression reflected his focused thinking. He closed his eyes almost entirely probably to try to fit the presenters' ideas into his (Tullock's) models of the world; or probably trying to fit the presenter's evidence into some historical event that Tullock knew happened several hundreds of years before in a region of India or China. He balanced his chair back and forth to the point that I was always worried that he was going to fall down. He never did. While the presentation continued he rose his had, and asked how the presenter's theory explained the events that had happened in the province of Shandong, Eastern China, between the years 1622 and 1623, or something like that. It goes without saying the the presenter simply admitted that he had no idea, which made Professor Tullock even more upset.   

In his very good article, "The Non-Nobelist" John Miller describe Tullock's personality:
Shortly after George Mason University opened its new law-school building a few years ago, then-governor of Virginia Jim Gilmore toured it. He asked to meet Gordon Tullock, a renowned economist on the faculty. Off a curving fourth-floor hallway, in Tullock’s freshly furnished office, the two men shook hands. “You’re the governor?” asked Tullock. “Good. Then maybe you can fix the leak in my ceiling.”
And that, in a nutshell, may explain why Tullock has failed to win a Nobel Prize in economics — an award he richly deserves, but one that has eluded him for decades. He is famously impolitic, and has developed a knack for provocation — a skill that can be either irritating or endearing. Whatever its effect, however, Tullock’s fondness for controversy is backed up by a daring intellect that cuts across disciplines and has shaped free-market thinking for more than a generation. “Gordon is one of the most original-minded persons in the world,” says Milton Friedman, who took home the Nobel in 1976. “I always thought it was a mistake not to let him have a prize.”
As the Nobel Foundation prepares to name this year’s recipient in October, it would do well to reconsider the case for Tullock. He has led an important and influential life, despite being constantly overlooked.
Tullock, now 84, was born and raised in Rockford, Ill. Although he attended the University of Chicago, he never formally received his bachelor’s degree because he objected to paying a $5 fee. 
Tullock eventually earned his law degree and went into private practice. This lasted four months. “I participated in two minor court cases — I won one that I should have lost, and I lost one that I should have won,” he says.  
Tullock eventually earned his law degree and went into private practice. This lasted four months. “I participated in two minor court cases — I won one that I should have lost, and I lost one that I should have won,” he says. He then entered the Foreign Service and spent several years in China, Hong Kong, and Korea, sparking a lifelong fascination with international relations. He’s currently writing a book on the history of U.S. foreign affairs. “Since about 1890, our policies almost always have been wrong,” he says with a smirk — as usual, he’s seeking a reaction. He describes why it was a mistake to have intervened in the First World War and how Pearl Harbor might have been avoided. Then he suggests that it might be worthwhile, right now, for the U.S. to invade Brazil: “We could move into the jungle and develop it.” A couple of years ago, in fact, he drafted a paper urging this course of action. “I had the good sense not to give it wide circulation.” If nothing else, Tullock loves to start an argument — even one that guarantees he won’t ever win the Nobel Peace Prize. 
This was the start of a remarkably productive association. Buchanan invited Tullock to Charlottesville for a year-long fellowship. By the time it was over, in 1959, the two had agreed to collaborate on a book about the economics of constitutions and democracies. Curiously, Tullock doesn’t vote: “Anthony Downs [an economist] 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,” he says. “So why bother?” Tullock takes great pleasure in announcing this view — and on Election Day, friends enjoy attaching their “I Voted” stickers to his office door. 
Yet in 1986, when the Nobel people decided that public-choice theory had matured to the point of deserving the prize, they gave it to Buchanan alone. He had certainly earned it, and his distinguished career included many books and papers that he had written by himself. At the center of his achievement, however, lay his work with Tullock. When National Journal asked Buchanan’s co-author about being skipped over, Tullock shot back: “I’m mad about it, to put it bluntly.” 
The slight was both obvious and gratuitous: In the 36 years since the economics prize was first awarded in 1969, it has been shared 16 times. Some thought that Tullock was a victim of his background. Lacking any formal training in economics beyond that single law-school class, he was possibly seen as an interloper who didn’t truly qualify. Moreover, Tullock has been called a “natural economist,” meaning that he did not have to sit through hours of lectures to understand his discipline. Nor did he have to write a thick dissertation. His contributions to economics have come in the form of big ideas and deep insights, rather than the technical genius and mathematical rigor that increasingly dominate the field. Tullock himself thinks something else may have played a role: “I have no doubt that I was making a lot of nasty cracks about Sweden and its socialist economy in those days.” The Nobel Foundation, of course, is based in Stockholm. 
By the time he had missed out on the big prize, Tullock was used to snubs. As a professor at the University of Virginia in the 1960s, he was turned down for promotion three times, prompting him to leave. “I could see they didn’t want me around,” he says. There’s a nomadic quality to his life, with its spells at the University of South Carolina, Rice, Virginia Tech, and the University of Arizona. His current appointment, at George Mason, is actually his second stop at the school. Keep reading . . .
I cross my fingers, and hope he wins. It might be his last chance, although we have said this year after year. I any case, this post is a small tribute for a scholar I admire a lot; for his sharpness, originality, diligent work, and great writing skills. 

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