Economist James Buchanan dies; Matthew Yglesias dances on his grave

Today, economics scholars and libertarians took to Twitter to pay condolences to one of the greatest US economists of the 20th century.

Meanwhile, liberal pundit Matthew Yglesias decided today would be a good day to take a potshot:

The Nobel Prize committee didn’t consider Buchanan overrated. (Buchanan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic in 1986.)

The hostility from liberals like Yglesias should come as no surprise. As the Cato Institute (where Buchanan was a senior fellow) notes, Buchanan’s work undermined the case for government solutions to market failures:

Before the work of [James] Buchanan and [his colleague Gordon] Tullock, economists and political scientists viewed “market failure” as a litmus test for government action. When the private sector was perceived to produce a sub-optimal outcome, government actors would reconfigure the situation so as to rectify the problem. Buchanan and Tullock’s 1962 book, The Calculus of Consent, aggressively questioned this scenario: why do we assume that because a government acts, it necessarily solves a given problem? Don’t public as well as private actors pursue their self-interest?

A former student, economist Steve Horwitz, says Buchanan “changed the face of economics and politics and advanced the cause of liberty as much as anyone in the second half of the 20th century.” And Yglesias has done … what exactly?


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