On the emergence of a classic work: a short history of the impact of Gordon Tullock’s Welfare Costs of Tariffs, Monopolies, and Theft

Abstract

Gordon Tullock’s “Welfare Costs of Tariffs, Monopolies, and Theft” is by now widely regarded to be a classic work in public choice. However, like many “classic papers,” it was not always so highly regarded. It was rejected at several journals before finding its way to print and arguably took two or three decades to be fully appreciated. This paper discusses developments in the public choice and rent seeking literatures that helped bring Tullock’s paper to its status as a classic work in political economy.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See, for example, Posner (1968), Magee et al. (1972) and Daly and Giertz (1975). Posner was among the first to see the importance of Tullock’s contribution for both the theory of monopoly and regulation and for law and economics.

  2. 2.

    An exception to the rule is Barzel (1974), who cited the paper in his paper exploring how waiting time tends to dissipate the rents associated with goods freely given away on a “first-come, first-served” basis.

  3. 3.

    Olson’s book also was initially undervalued. See McGuire (1998).

  4. 4.

    Disagreements between the administration at UVA and the economics department led Buchanan to depart for UCLA and Tullock to leave for Rice University. Tullock was at Rice University as a professor of economics and political science when his now famous 1967 paper finally was published after being rejected several times. He moved to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VPI) in 1968 and helped organize the Center for Study of Public Choice with Charles Goetz. James Buchanan left UCLA for VPI in 1969. See Brady and Tollison (1991) or Brady (2005) for more details about the early history of Tullock’s paper. See Shughart and Tollison (2016) for more on Tullock’s career. The second issue of Constitutional Political Economy in 2016 includes several overviews of Tullock’s broad research program.

  5. 5.

    This edited volume and Tollison’s survey of the rent-seeking literature (1982) are his two most cited contributions, with about 3000 Google citations between them as of this writing (December 2017). By now, a half-dozen collections of rent-seeking papers have been published, most recently Congleton et al. (2008).

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Correspondence to Roger D. Congleton.

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Congleton, R.D. On the emergence of a classic work: a short history of the impact of Gordon Tullock’s Welfare Costs of Tariffs, Monopolies, and Theft. Public Choice 181, 5–12 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-018-0542-4

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Keywords

  • Gordon Tullock
  • Rent seeking
  • History of thought
  • History of public choice
  • Sociology of science
  • Emergence as a classic