3 years ago

Buchanan, Popular Myths, and the Social Responsibility of Economists

Alain Marciano

This article presents and discusses "The 'Politics' of Economic Policy," an essay that remains unpublished and that James Buchanan wrote in 1953. In this essay, Buchanan, for the first time, claimed that politicians and bureaucrats are not benevolent despots—it was not an assumption. This helps to understand that Buchanan had abandoned the "romantic" belief that politicians were acting for the interest of the public early in his career, much earlier than usually acknowledged and even earlier than his first works in "nonmarket decision‐making." Beyond this historical insight, we show that Buchanan wrote his article in response or echo to Knight's "The Rôle of Principles in Economics and Politics" (1951). Comparing Buchanan's and Knight's texts, we show that Buchanan adopted a Knightian perspective while criticizing Knight and departing from his views. Of particular importance is what Buchanan wrote on how economists should frame their policy recommendations and on how they may need to avoid very sophisticated theories.

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