In April, 1963, James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock organized an interdisciplinary conference of scholars from economics, political science, sociology, and law. Their topic — which leveraged the success of Buchanan’s and Tullock’s 1962 book, The Calculus of Consent — was the rational analysis of politics. A second conference followed the next year, and the proceedings were printed in an edited volume. A third conference followed. And soon the nascent group of odd-ball scholars were gaining increasing momentum. Out of this, the Public Choice Society emerged.
Since then, an annual conference has been held every March for the last half century. And today begins the 50th anniversary PCS conference in New Orleans.
The 50th’s conference program may be of interest to PE readers. Its highlights are the four plenary sessions, each devoted to a main tributary in public choice thought: Virginia Political Economy, the Bloomington (Ostrom) School, Experimental Economics, and Social Choice Theory. Each plenary session is populated by eminent and emerging scholars who will explore the heritage and the ongoing vitality of these respective strands.
Wayne and I are excited to be on the program as well. We’ll participate in a session where Professors Peter Boettke, John Levendis, and Michael Thomas will comment on Madmen alongside Larry White’s The Clash of Economic Ideas. Public choice, of course, is central to the story that Wayne and I tell in Madmen, so we’re delighted that Art Carden organized this session.
The program will also feature special tributes in honor of PCS past presidents Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012), Vincent Ostrom (1919-2012), and James Buchanan (1919-2013). The tribute to Buchanan will include this short video on his life and work, “Daring to be Different.”
Public choice is more relevant in today’s world than ever, both as a discipline and as the Society of scholars. This weekend, this group of scholars will commemorate the Society’s origins, which emerged through the intellectual entrepreneurship of James Buchanan and his fellow travelers. As Buchanan recounted in 2003:
Our book [The Calculus of Consent] was well-received by both economists and political scientists. And, through the decades since its publication, the book has achieved status as a seminal work in the research program. The initial interest in the book, and its arguments, prompted Tullock and me, who were then at the University of Virginia, to initiate and organize a small research conference in Charlottesville in April 1963. We brought together economists, political scientists, sociologists, and scholars from other disciplines, all of whom were engaged in research outside the boundaries of their disciplines. The discussion was sufficiently stimulating to motivate the formation of a continuing organization, which we first called the Committee on Non-Market Decision-Making, and to initiate plans for a journal initially called Papers on Non-Market Decision-Making, which Tullock agreed to edit.
We were all unhappy with these awkward labels, but after several annual meetings there emerged the new name “public choice,” for both the organization and the journal. In this way the Public Choice Society and the journal Public Choice came into being. Both have proved to be quite successful as institutional embodiments of the research program, and sister organizations and journals have since been set up in Europe and Asia.
Onward and upward…