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James M. Buchanan and Liberal Political Economy: A Rational Reconstruction

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James M. Buchanan and Liberal Political Economy: A Rational Reconstruction examines the contemporary meaning and significance of James M. Buchanan’s body of work. The book uses Buchanan’s past contributions to explore the present and future relevance of his scholarly contributions and insights. It seeks mainly to explain what insight for their work contemporary scholars might acquire by becoming familiar with some of Buchanan’s formulations. Buchanan was one of the most creative and prolific scholars of political economy during the post-war period. Not only was his body of work so immense that it could not be contained within 20 volumes of Collected Works, but also Buchanan’s scholarship made such strong contact with law, ethics, and political science that he could easily have served as a poster-child for the programs in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics which have been gaining momentum in recent years. Buchanan spoke for a style of economics that made wide and firm contact with the full range of the humane studies. This book emphasizes those features of Buchanan’s thought that seem relevant for contemporary scholarship within the broadly liberal tradition of political economy.

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About the Author:

Richard E. Wagner is Holbert L. Harris Professor of Economics at George Mason University.

Review:

Nobel Laureate James M. Buchanan died in 2013. His former student, colleague, and coauthor Richard Wagner has written this account of Buchanan’s work from the perspective of the modern scholar. Hence the use of the words “rational reconstruction” in the subtitle. Rather than an intellectual biography, Wagner provides a composite of Buchanan’s themes and puts them together for the modern theorist to appreciate and use. There are benefits and costs to such an approach, and Wagner makes the most of the benefits. From public choice to constitutional economics to the quest for a moral order, Wagner outlines what the modern theorist considers to be the strength of Buchanan’s program. Wagner’s approach makes this an excellent study not only of Buchanan, but of political economy generally. A useful contrast as well for the recent study of Buchanan by Nancy MacLean (Democracy in Chains, 2017). For libraries with strong collections in public choice and constitutional political economy, or those which seek good additions in those fields that will enable students and researchers to understand contemporary work. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students through faculty. (CHOICE)

Wagner’s reconstruction of Buchanan’s work reflects their close collaboration, providing significant insight into the development of each of the strands of thought in Buchanan’s expansive oeuvre. Furthermore, Wagner’s familiarity with the modern literature allows him to connect Buchanan’s work to a greater conversation in public choice and constitutional political economy that has blossomed in recent years.... As a tool to understand Buchanan’s project and the greater study of public choice and constitutional political economy, Wagner’s book excels, providing as exceptional reconstruction of Buchanan’s thoughts and setting the stage for scholars to continue elaborating on the ideas that Buchanan put forward. Wagner very clearly guides the reader from the sources from which Buchanan sought inspiration, through the great accomplishments of his works, and to the modern literature that has blossomed from public choice and constitutional political economy. James M. Buchanan and Liberal Political Economy: A Rational Reconstruction is also an engaging tribute to Buchanan as Wagner’s longtime friend. Wagner’s admiration for Buchanan shines through, giving life to what might come off otherwise as purely an academic enterprise. This allows Wagner’s exposition to give character to Buchanan’s story and nuance to his works, making for an interesting and engaging read. Overall, I would recommend this work as an exceptional bit of intellectual history that illuminates the long and storied career of James M. Buchanan and provides an interesting and coherent reconstruction to the body of Buchanan’s work. (The Independent Review: A Journal of Political Economy)

Buchanan’s student and then longtime colleague and collaborator Richard Wagner is...the scholar most qualified to contribute to [Buchanan] studies.... For scholars seeking to acquaint themselves with his ideas, James M. Buchanan and Liberal Political Economy is an indispensable starting point (Regulation)

The book is neither intellectual history nor applied political economy, but combines traits of both in a way that yields an important and informative work. . . . I strongly recommend this volume to all regular readers of Public Choice, as well as related journals such as Constitutional Political Economy. . . . Ultimately, all scholars who are consumers and producers of the contents of Public Choice will miss a significant opportunity for scholarly advancement if they find themselves without this book on their shelves. (Public Choice)

James Buchanan's body of research can be read from both neoclassical and neoAustrian perspectives to great advantage. In this book, Richard Wagner provides us with his unique neoAustrian perspective on Buchanan's research and Weltanschauung, placing them in a rich intellectual universe. Although fellow travelers may disagree about the main points of interest on such a tour, all will find Wagner's views interesting, informative, and thought provoking. (Roger D. Congleton, West Virginia University)

James M. Buchanan was the central figure in the reconstruction of political economy in the post WWII era. His influence initiated both the development of public choice economics and constitutional economics, as well as market process theory and liberal political economy. Wagner's James M. Buchanan and Liberal Political Economy is a masterful work—a comprehensive, wonderfully written, and creative reconstruction of a large body of work that offers a window into Buchanan’s broader contributions and continued relevance. Readers interested in an introduction to Buchanan's ideas and the contribution they make to the liberal tradition of political economy will be wise to read Wagner's important work. (Peter Boettke, George Mason University)

Richard Wagner knows James Buchanan’s contributions to political economy backward and forward. This is not just a cliché when applied to Wagner’s book, James M. Buchanan and Liberal Political Economy: A Rational Reconstruction, in which he explains the coherence of almost the entire body of Buchanan’s work. Wagner focuses on major themes from Buchanan’s ‘oeuvre,’ sometimes illuminating how his later insights can increase our understanding of his early work and at other times reversing the direction of understanding. Wagner’s book is a major intellectual achievement, based on a 50-year association with Buchanan ‘as a student, colleague and co-author. (Dwight R. Lee, Southern Methodist University)

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