Thirty Years after the Nobel: James Buchanan's Virginia Political Economy

Thirty years ago, in October 1986, James M. Buchanan was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics “for his development of the contractual and constitutional bases for the theory of economic and political decision-making.” His contributions in these areas as well as those in methodology, social philosophy, public policy economics, and political science continue to have a lasting influence on scholarship today.

Please join us on October 6, 2016 for a keynote speech and panel discussion to reflect on the significance of Buchanan’s Nobel Prize and the various strands of influence his work has had in subsequent decades of scholarship. We will discuss his contributions in the fields of social and political philosophy, social contract theory, and constitutional political economy, together with his influence on the research of other prominent economic thinkers. In keeping with the F. A. Hayek Program’s view of political economy as a progressive research program, we will explore key themes in Buchanan’s research and see where they may lead us for the future of the discipline.

About the Buchanan Speaker Series

The Buchanan Speaker Series promotes Nobel laureate James Buchanan’s intellectual legacy by applying Buchanan’s ideas to the pressing matters of our time.

James Buchanan moved to George Mason University in the early 1980s. His influence on the developing agenda at the Mercatus Center has been important in at least two ways. One is how it fostered a broad research and educational vision that seeks to embrace both political economy and social philosophy. As Buchanan once put it when establishing his first academic center at the University of Virginia in the late 1950s—the Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy—the faculty will

“strive to carry on the honorable tradition of ‘political economy’—the study of what makes for a ‘good society.’ Political economists stress the technical economic principles that one must understand in order to assess alternative arrangements for promoting peaceful cooperation and productive specialization among free men. Yet political economists go further and frankly try to bring out into the open the philosophical issues that necessarily underlie all discussions of the appropriate functions of government and all proposed economic policy measures.”

Buchanan’s other lasting influence is his motto “dare to be different.” Mercatus is grounded in the intellectual traditions best exemplified by F. A. Hayek, but our scholars also draw from the best work in contemporary social science and the humanities. As Buchanan noted in a 1979 essay honoring Hayek, “The diverse approaches of the intersecting ‘schools’ must be the bases for conciliation, not conflict. We must marry the property-rights, law-and-economics, public-choice, Austrian subjectivist approaches.” At George Mason and the Mercatus Center this intellectual marriage has taken place.