The Right Fork

"I ask myself again why anyone would find interest in the private dimensions of my own history," muses Nobel laureate economist James M. Buchanan in his new collection of personal and intellectual autobiographical essays. The question, embedded in an essay entitled "Country Aesthetic," which explores the manifold and profound meanings that the concept of country, and more importantly the concept of owning the land on which one lives, has for Buchanan, answers itself. Exploring the mind of a writer and thinker of Buchanan's caliber is its own reward.

Buchanan is the founding father and linchpin of the "Virginia School" of economics, whose founding work was accomplished at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. The Virginia School's prime contribution, for which Buchanan was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 1986, is public choice theory, which upsets the shibboleths of interventionist economists (who assume government to be the perfect solution to all perceived "market failures") by applying the standard of self-interested homo economicus to government actors as well as private ones.

This approach allows for consideration of the notion—heretical to big-government economists—that governments can fail in their supposed goals of disinterestedly pursuing the larger social good in the same way they like to accuse free markets of failing. They can...

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