RIP James Buchanan

January 09, 2013 | By TIMOTHY SANDEFUR

Nobel laureate James Buchanan died today at the age of 93. Along with his colleague Gordon Tullock, Buchanan founded the branch of political economy called “public choice.” Public choice theory studies the economic incentives of legislating—and explains how private interest groups use government to shut out competition or to seize land for private use or impose other kinds of burdens on their rivals out of their own self-interest. This was a phenomenon the founding fathers were well aware of, but public choice scholars have applied scholarly rigor to show how and why groups spend so much time and effort to influence the redistributive state. Written in his crisp, precise style, Buchanan’s insights became essential to our more sophisticated contemporary understanding of how and why the government violates our rights, and what we can do to stop it. And in Kelo v. New London, Pacific Legal Foundation had the honor of representing Buchanan and Tullock, and filed this brief explaining the public choice effects of eminent domain abuse. Sadly, the Court’s decision in that case worsened the situation and proved Buchanan’s predictions like a laboratory experiment. RIP, Prof. Buchanan—thank you for all you taught us.