November 09, 2007
Two cheers for Bob Tollison

I returned today from a two-day conference at Clemson celebrating Robert D. Tollison on his 65th birthday. The conference, organized by Bobby McCormick and Melissa Yeoh, had a lot of interesting papers, some great conversations and a dinner roast of Bob where Henry Butler, Fred McChesney, Bill Shughart, Jim Miller and Bobby McCormick put on a hilarious show. Public Choice will publish the festschrift in the January 2008 issue.

Bob is a remarkable economist and person. After writing under Jim Buchanan at the University of Virginia in the late 60's, Bob was on faculty at Cornell, advisor to the CEA, and department chair at Texas A&M---all by age 31. Bob is well known for having moved around a lot, holding posts at seven different academic departments and two government agencies (thankfully for me, his longest tenure was at GMU from 1983-1998, where I was his penultimate student). But Bob is even better known as an incredibly prolific scholar who shows no sign of slowing. In addition to his extensive consulting experience, the festschrift program breaks down Bob's vita as follows:

12 general interest economics books
3 seventh-edition textbooks (with Bob Ekelund)
210 peer-reviewed articles
108 articles in books and collected volumes
43 doctoral dissertations directed
45 dissertations as reader
8 masters theses directed or reader.

But believe me, it's not a numbers game for Bob. It's about sticking with an idea ("Ed, if we don't defend homo economicus, who will?") and pushing it in as many directions and as far as it will go ("There is no such thing as a a non-economic part of life: Today the Pope, tomorrow the world."). That's what makes doing economics enjoyable for Bob. And that's why he has made important and/or seminal contributions not only in political economy but in sports economics, antitrust/regulation, economic history, and the economics of religion. Let me be clear: Bob Tollison is the scholar who is most singularly responsible for dismantling public interest theories of government (and maybe the Church!). Bob also has painstakingly enforced Virginia School claims to intellectual innovations in areas like rent seeking and constitutional economics ("Old wine comes before new wine."). All that said, his biggest contribution may be to his scores of students. He teaches you to show up early, keep your butt in the chair, enjoy what you do, and not to worry about critics and naysayers. Oh, and speak truth to power. That's a big one.

I'll cut it off there. But I do want to point to a few of Bob's works. If you have an inner economist who wants to be fed, and you haven't read RDT's stuff, I recommend some starting points beneath the fold. "The usual caveat applies."

Thanks, Bob, and happy birthday!

Bibliographical highlights:

Survey articles:
"Public Choice and Legislation," Virginia Law Review, 1988
"Rent Seeking: A Survey," Kyklos, 1983
"Public Choice and Antitrust," Cato Journal, 1988

"Time Inconsistency and fiscal Policy," Journal of Public Economics, 1993 (with Crain)
"Congerssional influence and patterns of new deal spending," J. Law & Econ, 1991 (with Anderson)
"Romance, Realism, and Economic Reform," Kyklos, 1988 (with Wagner)
"The Pope and the price of meat: A public choice perspective," Kyklos, 1987.
"Final voting in legislatures," AER, 1986 (with Crain and Leavens)
"Adam Smith in the Customhouse," JPE, 1985

Recent and super interesting:
"The Economics of the Counter-Reformation: Incumbent-Firm Reaction to Market Entry," Economic Inquiry, 2004 (with Ekelund and Hebert)
"Intellectual Collaboration," Journal of Political Economy, 2000 (with Laband)
"Racial Integration as an Innovation: Empirical Evidence from Sports Leagues," American Economic Review, 2002 (with Goff and McCormick)

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