Monday, July 24, 2023

Geoffrey Brennan (9/15/44-7/28/22)


Long-time Duke faculty member and friend Geoffrey Brennan died in Canberra, Australia of complications from acute leukemia. 

 “Geoff” joined the Duke Department of Political Science in January 2005 as the Nan Keohane Distinguished Visiting Professor, and has served as a Research Professor since. He helped co-found, and staff, the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics program, a joint effort of Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. His primary appointment, and most of his time, was spent at the Australian National University in Canberra. He was an eminent scholar in Public Choice, and Public Economics, with some of his influential early work published with Nobel Prize-Winner James Buchanan, including The Power to Tax and The Reason of Rules

In the 1990’s Geoff’s interests turned toward the connections between Public Choice and the growing field of “behavioral economics.” In Democracy and Decision (with Loren Lomasky), he considered a novel solution to the “paradox of voting” by giving expressive voting a much firmer theoretical foundation. In 2000 Brennan followed up this work with Democratic Devices and Desires, with Alan Hamlin. He extended this perspective with the discipline-crossing book The Economy of Esteem, written with philosopher and political scientist Philip Pettit. 

His final book, Explaining Norms, with Lina Erikkson, Robert Goodin and Nicholas Southwood, has implications that are still being explored in research work and laboratory experiments. Geoff was co-editor of the collected works of James M Buchanan, and was extraordinarily energetic in working to create intellectual bridges. 

He was the first non-U.S. president of the Public Choice Society in 2002, and helped co-found the European Center for the Study of Public Choice in Rome. Locally, Geoff and his spouse Margaret were famous hosts when they were renting Duke’s R. Taylor Cole House at 7 Sylvan Road in Durham. Guests enjoyed not just fellowship and good food, but might be an audience for Geoff’s remarkable singing voice, perhaps in a rendition of “Bye, Bye, Blacksburg” or other favorites. 

Election Day 2022

Got to walk to our polling place and exercise my voting privilege.

Even Gordon Tullock would have approved of my voting today, since I got to vote for myself!  (NC Senate District 13)

It was crowded, but the line was negligible, two people at each of two different stations to be identified and then to get the ballot.

On every election day, I am often reminded of Emerson's 1844 observations of watching folks go to vote. That's almost 180 years ago, but it rings true now.

At least, it rings true to me. 

I remember standing at the polls one day, when the anger of the political contest gave a certain grimness to the faces of the independent electors, and a good man at my side looking on the people, remarked, "I am satisfied that the largest part of these men, on either side, mean to vote right." I suppose, considerate observers looking at the masses of men, in their blameless, and in their equivocal actions, will assent, that in spite of selfishness and frivolity, the general purpose in the great number of persons is fidelity. The reason why any one refuses his assent to your opinion, or his aid to your benevolent design, is in you: he refuses to accept you as a bringer of truth, because, though you think you have it, he feels that you have it not. You have not given him the authentic sign. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “New England Reformers,” 1844.