Public Choice Society

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The Public Choice Society was established at Virginia Polytechnic and State University by a group of ultra-libertarian economists who clustered around James M Buchanan. This group as a whole migrated to the newly established George Mason University which was being funded as an ideological advocacy institution by some conservative multi-millionairres.

Buchanan became the guru of the Public Choice Society at GMU, and his devoted associate, Professor Robert D Tollison, quickly realised that this small-government/low regulation ideology was a commercial proposition that could be exploited. He, and over a hundred of the Society members, became lobbyists for the tobacco industry for real monetary considerations, using the Center for Study of Public Choice they established at the university.

Buchanan was a right-wing ideolog. He joined the Board of Advisors at The Independent Institute (which later took over the tobacco industry's Cash-for-Comment Economists Network) and he was a long-term member of the Mont Pelerin Society, (for a time its President). He was also a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, [2]

James Buchanan was one of the four gurus of the Public Choice economic ideology. This was an ultra-libertarian economic school of thought which boosted free-markets to the pinnacle of man's achievement, and regarded any government involvement in the provision of services or goods or infrastructure as an incipient form of socialism. Tullock worked with Gordon Tullock who was another guru at Virginia Polytechnic and later at George Mason University. It was as much a quasi-political movement as it was a center for economics theory.

The other two Public Choice gurus were G. Warren Nutter, and Leland Yeager -- who don't seem to figure in the tobacco documents.[3] However:

  • Buchanan and Nutter, organized the Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy at Virginia Poly.
  • G Warren Nutter, a close friend of Sen. Strom Thurmond, was appointed as Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs in March 1969.
  • Leland Yeager at the University of Virginia wrote "International Monetary Relations" and worked with the Reason Foundation
Tullock and Buchanan had disciples in Robert D Tollison, Dwight R Lee, William F Shughart and Robert B Ekelund. Under Tollison's leadership, they set up the Public Choice Society, then the Center for Study of Public Choice, and eventually the Cash for Comments Economists Network. They recruited libertarian economists in other states (generally the lowly paid economists at State Universities) and provide many years of service to the tobacco industry by an organised network of lobbying under direction of the Tobacco Institute.

Buchanan was the one who received the Nobel Prize for this ideology -- and he also became president of the Mont Pelerin Society -- the top position in the top think-tank of the libertarian hierarchy.

The focus of the tobacco industry was on the Center for Study of Public Choice rather than on the Public Choice Society. The Center was integrated into the administration framework of the University and had staff which could be devoted to the administration of the network. The two most obvious were Carol M Roberts and Elizabeth A Masaitis.

Documents & Timeline

1984 Nov 20 Ogilvy & Mather PR (O&M) is organising for the Tobacco Institute the first economists forum at the Public Choice Society meeting in New Orleans, Feb 21-23. (Note: at this time James Savarese worked for O&M's PR division)

The topic would be "Public Choices About Tax Reform." William F. Shughart II, an economist from Clemson University, would chair the panel. Those who would present papers would be:

  • Thomas Borcherding, from Claremont Graduate School. Subject: "Tax Reform and Simplification: A Public Choice Perspective."
  • Harold Hochman, from City University of New York. Subject: "The Value-Added Tax: Do We Need Another Excise Tax?"
  • Fred McChesney, Emory University Law School. Subject: "Tax Reform in a Rent-Seeking Perspective: The Role of Interests."
  • Gary Anderson, an economist from George Mason University, would be the discussant.

Bob Tollison would be responsible for getting us on the program. He and Jim Savarese would work with each of the people to ensure that each paper contained a clear anti-excise tax message. Shughart and Anderson would also mention excises in their presentations. We will be obtaining CV s from Anderson and Shughart, who Jim and Bob Tollison know well. The other economists have all worked with us before.

Savarese's estimate of the costs for running this Economists' Forum project with the three papers at $2,000 each and Gary Anderson with $1000, plus travel, hotel, administration, etc. was $16,000. [4]

This appears to be the first operation of what was to become the Cash for Comments Economists Network