Economics and Freedom: Not a Math Problem
By Amy Willis
What does it mean to think about politics realistically rather than romantically? What should economists really do? And is what they do (too) wrapped up in the materialistic pursuit of utility maximization? These are just some of the questions that Nobel laureate James M. Buchanan tried to answer in his life’s work. In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes back Don Boudreaux to discuss Buchanan’s legacy, and two articles of Buchanan’s in particular, “What Should Economists Do?” and “Natural and Artifactual Man,” both found in Volume 1 of Buchanan’s Collected Works.
The conversation begins with an overview of Public Choice, largely the basis on which Buchanan was awarded the Nobel prize in 1986. But as Boudreaux is quick to point out, Buchanan’s intellectual legacy goes far beyond Public Choice. Let’s hear your reaction to the conversation between Roberts and Boudreaux. Use the prompts below to continue the conversation- here online or offline with others.
1- Why do Roberts and Boudreaux think the reaction to Buchanan’s Nobel was so unenthusiastic? When public choice is defined as, “Politicians are self-interested,” what’s missing?
2- What should economists do??? In what ways was Buchanan pushing back against the dominance of Welfare Economics at the time of this address? What’s wrong with the way we teach economics according to Buchanan’s view?
3- Boudreaux argues one reason why a lot of more hardcore libertarians don’t like Buchanan is because Buchanan always insisted on modeling politics as exchange. Why might this be the case? How are markets and politics both examples of emergent orders?
4- What is “artifactual man,” according to Buchanan? How does this second article build on the first, according to Boudreaux?
5- Boudreaux cites one of his favorite quotes from Buchanan: ‘Man wants freedom to become the man he wants to become.’ What IS Buchanan’s case for freedom? Is this case convincing? Sufficient?
Bonus Question: Roberts and Boudreaux offer “twitter versions” of Nobels of Buchanan and James Tobin. Can you come up with some others? Here’s the list of Economic Sciences Nobel prizes. Share yours on twitter, and tag us @Econlib and @EconTalker.