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38 Regulation 16 (2015-2016)
The Future Legacy of Public Choice

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16 / Regulation / SUMMER 2015

     The Future Legacy of Public Choice



                                         BY ZACHARY GOCHENOUR

              ordon Tullock worked at many schools and on
              several continents over his long and illustrious
              career, but nowhere is his impact felt and pres-
              ence missed more than at George Mason Uni-
              versity, where I did my graduate work. In faculty
 offices there, nearly everyone has their favorite Tullock story.
 There he is remembered for his wit, often in the form of memo-
 rable insults; as colleague Alex Tabarrok mused in a memorial,
In my profession, not to have been insulted by Gordon is to be
a nobody. He is also remembered for the generosity he showed
his colleagues with his time and insight. His work is assigned in
more graduate courses than not, often carrying names of fields
he was a seminal author in: Law and Economics, Constitutional
Political Economy, and of course Public Choice.
   Unfortunately, I never met Tullock. He retired from Mason
 in 2008, two years before I started my doctoral work there. I
 never had a chance to take one of his famous seminar courses,
 where although he often said the optimal class size was zero, he
 inspired a large (and positive) number of economists. Still, I feel
 that I know him from his prolific work, of which he once said
 more was published than was ever assigned to him during all his
 formal economics training. For those of you who don't get his
 joke, Tullock was a lawyer by training, and supposedly only took
 one economics course for credit, taught by Henry Calvert Simons
 at the University of Chicago.
   Following his death last November at age 92, others com-
 mented extensively on his most recognized contributions to
 economics: his joint work with James Buchanan on The Calculus
 of Consent, the rent-seeking model, and the transitional gains trap.
 His work reveals an enormous intellect and command of econom-
 ics, but also an abiding curiosity and desire to understand the
 social world defined as broadly as possible. In this regard he joins
 ZACHARY GO CHENOUR is visiting assistant professor of economics at Western
 Carolina University.

other giants of economic thought who pushed the boundaries of
the economic way of thinking into other fields: Tullock was the
prototypical economic imperialist. His work has inspired articles,
dissertations, books, and entire careers. I hope and suspect it will
continue to do so for many generations. And so, in this tribute
to Professor Tullock, I want to discuss areas of his research that
are, to date, relatively unmined.

While his work on the economics of politics and rent-seeking
in particular never got the broad public recognition it deserved,
it was enormously influential inside the economics profession.
His seminal paper on the subject, The Welfare Costs of Tar-
iffs, Monopolies, and Theft, is his most-cited work and one of
the most cited articles in the field of political economy. It has
inspired an extensive literature on the causes and consequences
of corruption. Rent-seeking is sure to be the most durable part
ofTullock's legacy, for which many economists believe he should
have been awarded a Nobel Memorial Prize (presumably shared
with Anne Krueger, who independently wrote about the idea and
coined the term).
   People who accept the public interest theory of government-that
government officials are selfless advocates of the public good-often
ask (or lament) why there is so much money in politics. Tullock
answered convincingly: firms curry favor with politicians, who need
money for their re-election campaigns, through lobbying. While
the idea of rent-seeking-the lobbying of policymakers for laws and
regulations that give some firms market advantages over others-is
a cornerstone of public choice theory, it has left economists with an
empirical conundrum: why is there so little money in politics? If so
much regulation and subsidy is driven by rent-seeking, why don't
more firms pursue this strategy to strengthen their market position?
   In Tullock's original model, rent-seeking is an all-pay auction
where the probability of winning the prize is an increasing func-

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