Richard McKenzie on Gordon Tullock
By David Henderson
I’ll have some of my own reminiscences of Gordon Tullock sometime in the next few days. But I’m traveling to Montreal tomorrow and don’t have time. But Richard McKenzie sent me four of them. Here they are.
Gordon was on my dissertation committee. After reading all 252 pages of my dissertation within twelve hours of my submitting it, Gordon caught me in the Public Choice hallway at Virginia Tech to give me his assessment: “Minimal but acceptable.” To which I replied, “Optimal. Done!”
After completing my PhD and taking a professorship, I continued to call Gordon, “Professor Tullock” out of respect. A year after graduation, Gordon rebuked me over the phone for calling him “Professor Tullock”: “You know, you can now call me ‘Gordon’ . . . although I really prefer ‘His Majesty.'”
After writing The New World of Economics together in the mid-1970s, Gordon asked me, “Please don’t tell people I wrote the sex chapters.” I assured him, “Gordon, I don’t think you need to worry.”
On agreeing to write our textbook Modern Political Economy in the late 1970s, Gordon and I divided the workload. He would write the macroeconomics half and I would write the microeconomics half (which most people who knew Gordon will recognize as a questionable division of labor, hardly in accord with his comparative advantage). After six months, he sent me his 400 or so pages on macroeconomics. After reviewing what he had done, I told him, “Gordon, you only have five pages on Keynesian economics.” He quickly snapped back, “Well, tell me what I left out . . . that is important.”
Well, OK, I’ll tell one. Many of the people who have reminisced about Gordon remember his insults. I was the butt of them often also. I admit that I didn’t always enjoy them. Anyway, I interviewed at VPI (now Virginia Tech) in February 1975 for my first job as an assistant professor. My day was going well, and I was getting the sense that I might get an offer. Then I presented my dissertation at the end of a long day. Someone asked me a tough question–I can’t remember who asked or what the question was–and I thought “I’ve thought of this already. I can get this. I just need some quiet.” Two people in the back of the room were carrying on their own animated conversation about the question. I felt rattled. So I looked at them and said, “Please stop talking.” There was a real edge in my voice.
After the workshop ended, Gordon drove me to the nearest airport. “How did I do?” I asked tremulously. “Well, other than the two strong negative votes you’ll get for telling those two to shut up, you did well,” he answered. I must have looked crestfallen. So Gordon got almost tender and said, “That’s a perfectionist criticism.” When I ran into Jim Buchanan at a Liberty Fund seminar that summer, he said, “It was a close vote. We should have hired you.”