Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Memories of Gordon Tullock

Gordon died yesterday. We were colleagues at the Public Choice Center at VPI and I have affectionate memories of him. Some bits and pieces ...  .

Gordon gave the impression that he read every book that was published. As best I could tell, he was bluffing about half the time.

Like George Stigler, he was sharp tongued but not, so far as I could tell, in the least malicious. The best advice he gave me was that the one part of the submission cycle you can control is the time your article spends on your desk. 

My wife remembers meeting him when she was my girlfriend. He started the conversation by asking why she was wearing a backpack. Her interpretation was that the only form of conversation he knew was argument, he only knew two things about her—that she was my girlfriend and that she was wearing a backpack—so he flipped a mental coin and chose the backpack. He never made the common mistake of thinking that an argument was a quarrel.

One chapter of the recent third edition of my first book is based on something I published when I saw an opportunity to argue, in print, that something Gordon had written was both obvious and wrong. Anyone who knew him will understand that it was a temptation I could not resist.

The last time I saw him was an event at George Mason a good many years ago. I told him that I had heard he was publishing a book of his rejected articles. He smiled and nodded. So I asked when the first volume was coming out.

I will miss him.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear that. I was reading the Calculus of Consent last week and actually looked him up to see whether he is still around. He will be missed.

Unknown said...

One of my favorite Tullock stories is also one of my favorite David Friedman stories. You had a party the weekend following prelims and before final exams (1981). Since I wasn't planning on studying anyway, I went and went early. I was there when Tullock showed up. If I remember correctly your front hallway had (among many other things) pictures of sailing warships. In passing Tullock identified them. You disputed his identification and off you guys went. So, Tullock hadn't taken three steps into your house before you were arguing with each other. Perhaps I was missing something, but you both looked like you were enjoying it and as though you would have gladly switch sides if it would have extended the debate. I tell this story every time somebody says to me, "I hear Tullock and Friedman fought like cats and dogs." I certainly hope my happier interpretation of the arguing is correct.
David Kreutzer

Anonymous said...

I met Gordon Tullock in 1961 when I was in the Army undergoing basic training at Ft. Jackson, S.C. He was at the University of South Carolina. I contacted him because we had mutual interests in National Review and Bill Buckley. When we met he told me that I was not meant to wear an Army uniform. It was a truism and I agreed, so I was not offended.

David Friedman said...

David: I don't remember the argument, but certainly neither Gordon nor I regarded argument as a hostile activity. I was a senior in high school before I realized that people who told me that there were forms of conversation other than argument were not merely fuzzy thinkers, and I'm not sure Gordon ever found out.

John C. Webb said...

Dr. Friedman, VPI is now more commonly referred to as Virginia Tech. As a recent graduate from their Econ Dept, I am interested to know what the dept was like 30 years ago.

David Friedman said...

I was at VPI about thirty-five years ago. The Public Choice center was a pretty lively place, with interesting conversations. I'm not sure I can give a good account of the econ department more generally.