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A taste of a treasure trove for intellectual historians of 20th century political economy

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[embedded content] James M. Buchanan, I would argue, is more responsible than any other 20th century figure for the renewal of political economy -- even more so than F. A. Hayek.  Buchanan was well positioned to do so because he was operating in the field of public finance, but from a decidedly price theoretic position.  Critical to his enterprise from his earliest essays was his insistence that one cannot do public finance without first postulating a theory of the state.  Political theory, Buchanan argued, helped define the boundaries not only about the right and wrong of the state, but the scale and scope of the state as well.  Asking such questions put him in direct conversation with the leading scholars of his era throughout the world in philosophy, political science,

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James M. Buchanan, I would argue, is more responsible than any other 20th century figure for the renewal of political economy -- even more so than F. A. Hayek.  Buchanan was well positioned to do so because he was operating in the field of public finance, but from a decidedly price theoretic position.  Critical to his enterprise from his earliest essays was his insistence that one cannot do public finance without first postulating a theory of the state.  Political theory, Buchanan argued, helped define the boundaries not only about the right and wrong of the state, but the scale and scope of the state as well.  Asking such questions put him in direct conversation with the leading scholars of his era throughout the world in philosophy, political science, sociology, law, and, of course, economics.  His mentor Frank Knight must be understood, his engagement with those slightly senior to him such as Milton Friedman and Paul Samuelson must be consulted, his contemporaries such as G. Warren Nutter, William Riker, James Coleman, Vincent Ostrom, as well as those he influenced as a teacher or in his own way as a mentor such Gordon Tullock, Lin Ostrom and Mancur Olson, or students such as Toby Davis, Charlie Plott, Mark Pauly, etc.  And if you look, you will also see not only Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek, but GLS Shackle and Israel Kirzner, and John Rawls and Robert Nozick --- and in the form of ideas Adam Smith, David Hume, J. S. Mill and Knut Wicksell.  It is all there in his archives to dig up and explore, and wrestle with. And how can I forget the Italians, you cannot forget the Italian public finance theorists of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Alain Marciano and I recently published a sampling from the archives with the hope of exciting the imagination of scholars of 20th century economics to come explore the Buchanan archives at GMU. This was a long project that was first envisioned before the professionalization of Buchanan's archive actually started.  Alain and I originally had very grand ambitions, but we scaled down to a more manageable project. Alain is current working on an intellectual history of Buchanan that will explore the development of his unique perspective in 20th century political economy.

We were thrilled to publish this book with Mercatus and hope you will take a look at the content and when all the travel restrictions are lifted come visit GMU and spend some time looking through the remnants of a fascinating career and life.  Till then, perhaps The Soul of Classical Political Economy will give you a taste of what can be found.

Topper's Cabin  July 4th '77

Peter Boettke
Peter Joseph Boettke (January 3, 1960) is an American economist of the Austrian School. He is currently a University Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University; the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism, Vice President for Research, and Director of the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at GMU.

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