Dennis Mueller

American economist

Dennis Cary Mueller (born June 13, 1940) is a Professor of Economics (Emeritus) at the University of Vienna.



James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, and The Calculus (2012)


"James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, and The Calculus", Public Choice (2012)

  • In his 1975 book, The Limits of Liberty, Buchanan returned to the study of constitutions, but now approached them with a somewhat more cynical (realistic?) Hobbesian perspective. His later books with Geoffrey Brennan (1980,1985) also emphasized the importance of constitutional rules as constraints on the selfish pursuits of individual actors, and as means for controlling that public sector beast—Leviathan. This concern with constitutional decision making and constitutional rules can be regarded as one of the salient characteristics of James Buchanan’s research throughout his career.
  • When looking at the two streams of research these men produced, it is tempting to characterize Buchanan as a somewhat romantic optimist holding the belief that the pursuits of selfish individuals can be channeled for the common good, if the right set of constitutional constraints are adopted,and believing that individuals are capable of designing constitutions that achieve this goal. Thus, some 35 years after the publication of The Calculus, we find Buchanan, in joint work with Roger Congleton (1998), accepting the fact that legislatures always will adopt the simple majority rule, and trying to design constitutional constraints that will lead to outcomes benefiting all members of the community under that rule.
  • Gordon Tullock, on the other hand, might be characterized as the somewhat cynical pragmatist, who set out to understand the world, not to change it. This side of Tullock is visible in his early paper on simple majority rule, and is perhaps most apparent in his work on rent seeking. These differences should not be pushed too far, however. Buchanan (1980) also contributed to the rent-seeking literature, and often has described public choice as “politics without romance.” One of the most dispiriting contributions to the public choice literature has to be Kenneth Arrow’s (1951) famous impossibility theorem. In a too little appreciated article, Tullock (1967b) demonstrated with the help of a somewhat torturous geometrical analysis, that the cycling that underlies the impossibility theorem is likely to be constrained to a rather small subset of Pareto-optimal outcomes, and thus Arrow’s theorem was “irrelevant,” a rather happy result, and one which anticipated work appearing more than a decade later on the uncovered set. In Chap. 10 of Toward a Mathematics of Politics, Tullock (1967a) engages in a bit of wishful thinking about constitutional design by describing how one could achieve an ideal form of proportional representation in a legislative body. He also was an early enthusiast of the potential for using a demand-revelation process to reveal individual preferences for public goods (Tideman and Tullock 1976).
  • James Buchanan … produced several seminal contributions to the literature prior to the appearance of The Calculus, and a continual stream of books and articles afterward. I view Buchanan’s Nobel Prize as a reward for this great body of work, and not just limited to The Calculus. Pursuing this line of reasoning, Gordon Tullock’s prodigious research output following the publication of The Calculus also justifies a Nobel Prize. Indeed, Tullock’s (1967c) seminal analysis of rent seeking, and his subsequent work on this topic might be regarded as sufficient achievements for the awarding of a prize.
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