The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Sunday, May 26, 2013

More textbook bias

Economist James Gwartney explains in "The Public Choice Revolution in the Textbooks" how, once again, crucial ideas are kept out of university textbooks - and public discourse.

In 1986, economist James Buchanan won a Nobel prize in economics for his "groundbreaking work in the development of public choice analysis." Yet he never held a position at an elite school,

Buchanan and co-author Gordon Tullock first explained public choice theory in their 1962 book, The Calculus of Consent. Public choice theory identifies how our democratic political process is affected by political structures and collective decision-making rules. It analyzes how the operation of market processes affect political processes and vice versa.

After many years in the development of this sector of economics, Gwartney found no textbooks on it, so he wrote his own, Economics: Private and Public Choice.  He explained to students: "Economic tools can illustrate why 'good politics' sometimes conflicts with 'good economics' (that is, economic efficiency)." Public choice theory demonstrates that, no matter how good one's intentions, central economic planning does not work. Gwartney's work remains one of the only textbooks on Public Choice Theory.

Yet, despite the Nobel prize and its many applications, Public Choice theory has been neglected by elite schools like the Ivies, The University of California, or Berkeley. Buchanan never held a position at one, and out of 296 public choice scholars at the 2012 international meeting of the Public Choice Society, only 5 presenters were from these elite schools, with only 1 from the economics department!

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