About the Speaker
James McGill Buchanan was born on October 2, 1919, in Rutherford County, Tennessee. His grandfather, John P. Buchanan, had been elected governor of Tennessee in 1891. Buchanan attended what was then Middle Tennessee State Teachers College, majoring in mathematics, social science, and English literature, graduating with a B.S. in 1940. That same year he attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he earned the M.A. in economics. In 1941, he was offered a fellowship in statistics at Columbia University but was drafted into the Navy in August of that year due to the impending war. He served in the Pacific under Admiral Chester Nimitz and was awarded the Bronze Star.
Following the war, Dr. Buchanan entered the Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago where he came under the tutelage of Frank Knight. After receiving the doctorate and completing post-doctoral studies in Italy, he served on the faculties of The University of Tennessee and Florida State University. He joined the faculty of The University of Virginia in 1956 and became director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Political Economy in 1958. Here, he developed many of the seminal works in public choice including The Calculus of Consent. In 1968, he spent a year at UCLA before returning to Virginia to found the Center for the Study of Public Choice at Virginia Tech in 1969. At VPI, he developed many more key contributions to public choice theory including, The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan, Democracy in Deficit: The Political Legacy of Lord Keynes, Freedom in Constitutional Contract, and The Power to Tax: Analytical Foundations of a Fiscal Constitution. These works would eventually result in public choice being recognized as an entire field of study within the economics profession. In 1983, Buchanan moved the Public Choice Center to George Mason University and began work on two more major contributions to the public choice literature, Liberty Market, and State: Political Economy in the 1980s and The Reason of Rules-Constitutional Political Economy.
In 1986, Dr. Buchanan was awarded The Nobel Prize in Economics for questioning the accepted conventional wisdom of his time. He simply applied the same critical tests and logical analysis to public sector decisions as economists do to those in the private sector. In the early years of his work this was viewed as heresy. Somehow economists believed that mankind acted in self-interest in the private sector but quite differently in the public sector. Jim Buchanan rose to demonstrate the fallacy of that belief and created a superior understanding of the public sector. More importantly, he spawned a discipline which may shape public sector institutions of the future into more efficient, responsive units providing greater personal and economic freedom to the public.