Wednesday, January 09, 2013

James Buchanan: a personal remembrance

I got hired as an assistant professor at GMU in 1984, right after the Public Choice Center moved there from Blacksburg. GMU interviewed me at the AEA meetings that year. It was a two-stage interview. I met in the living room with Phil Wiest and someone else who I can't recall. After having "passed" that initial interview, I was escorted into the bedroom where Jim was sitting on the bed in a shirt and tie and stocking feet (and pants too!).  He proceeded to grill me for about 20 minutes. I left the interview thinking it had not gone well.

But I got a flyout and, after surviving some serious hazing from Gordon Tullock at my job talk, got and accepted an offer.

Shortly thereafter Jim won the Nobel Memorial Prize. As an assistant professor, I would circulate working papers to several senior colleagues (Tollison, Tullock, Crain, Buchanan). Jim would respond with a typed letter giving comments and criticism. I was made an associate of the Public Choice Center and started getting summer money.

Then I wrote a paper (never published) testing whether surprise deficits raised interest rates (they didn't). Never got any comments from Jim. In fact, I don't think he ever spoke to me again.

But I didn't get kicked out of the Center, and he supported me for tenure (if he hadn't of, I wouldn't have gotten it).

Buchanan was both an intimidating and an inspirational figure to me as a young professor. I would not ever say we were friends or even friendly, but I learned a lot from him and his support was important for launching my career (such as it is).


Michael Munger said...

I interviewed for that slot at GMU also. I remember the interview at AEA, where I talked with Gordon. Got the flyout, gave my talk. Dwight Lee actually snored, loudly, in my talk.

Met with James Buchanan after the talk. He grilled me for 20 minutes, hard, on my dissertation. And I thought it had not gone well.

Except that I was CORRECT. Apparently, Gordon preferred me, and Jim preferred Angus.

Later, Kevin and Gordon wrote a justly famous paper together. But Jim proved he was an excellent judge of talent, because he clearly made the right choice!

Dad said...

I remember meeting with Professor Buchanan at Florida State on April 12, 2000. He personally signed my copy of the Calculus of Consent and was very gracious in entertaining the questions of an extremely green graduate student.

dearieme said...

"Nobel Memorial Prize": more honest than the average economist.

Anonymous said...

I take it Buchanan was convinced that surprise deficits affect interest rates?