Boudreaux on Buchanan

GMU’s Donald Boudreaux on the late James Buchanan:

The theme of his life’s work is best summarized in the title of his 1997 article “Politics Without Romance.” With longtime colleague Gordon Tullock, Jim launched a research program—public-choice economics—that challenged the widespread notion that politicians in democratic societies are more nobly motivated and trustworthy than are business people and other private-sector actors. In a wide river of books and papers, Jim warned against the foolishness of romanticizing government. . . .

Not that Jim held much hope that his speaking out against unwise government policy would do much good. He sought to prevent harmful policies by tying politicians’ hands rather than by pleading with politicians to be more public-spirited. And to tie politicians’ hands Jim championed constitutional reform. He believed that only binding, enforceable constitutional rules can prevent Leviathan from eventually suffocating private markets and stamping out human freedom.

Ironically, the constitutional reform that Jim advocated practically requires the cooperation of the politicians whom he so distrusted. Yet it is a mark of greatness in Jim Buchanan that he held out hope, until his dying day, that clear-eyed scholarship would eventually persuade people of the dangers of unconstrained government and of the need to somehow rein it in.