Two Tullock Stories
By Bryan Caplan
Here are my two favorite Gordon Tullock stories, filtered through my admittedly imperfect memory.
It’s the summer of 1993. Gordon Tullock gives a guest seminar for interns at the Institute for Humane Studies. A random democratic failure comes up, and one of the interns suggests James Buchanan’s favorite panacea: “Change the constitution.”
I guardedly (yes, guardedly) say: “With all due respect to Professor Tullock, I can’t understand why we should expect constitutional politics to work any less badly than day-to-day politics.”
Tullock doesn’t skip a beat. “You’re right, of course. I’ve never been able to figure out why Jim thinks otherwise. Next question.”
Fast forward to the early 2000s. Both Tullock and I are now professors at GMU. As you may have heard, Tullock often expressed affection with bizarre insults. After six months, he had yet to speak a word against me. I naturally start to wonder if he dislikes me. All doubt vanishes, though, during a post-seminar dinner with me, Tullock, and Donald Wittman. Tullock is recounting one of his many lessons on Chinese history, ending with, “Chiang Kai-shek was a butcher, but he wasn’t as bad as Hitler or Stalin.”
Then Tullock stares right at me and says, “You’re as bad as Hitler or Stalin. But not Chiang Kai-shek.”
I furrow my brow, then remember that for Tullock, the greater and more random the insult, the deeper the affection. I can’t recall if I actually said or merely thought, “I love you, too, Gordon.”
And if this makes no sense to you, you didn’t know Tullock!