By STEPHEN MILLER
James Buchanan, who won the Nobel Prize for economics, helped found the field of public-choice theory, which examines how bureaucracies and elected leaders make decisions. He died Wednesday at age 93.
Among his conclusions was that public officials often act in their own self-interest instead of the public's interest. Thus, he argued, bureaucracies tend to grow and politicians tend to favor new spending and tax cuts, leaving the bills for the future.
Associated PressJames McGill Buchanan in 1986.
To prevent such choices, Mr. Buchanan advocated a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, to force politicians to curtail spending.
Within the field of economics, Mr. Buchanan's ideas were seen as a challenge to John Maynard Keynes, who called for government intervention in the economy, including running up budget deficits, to provide stimulus in lean times.
Mr. Buchanan came to wide notice during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. He was cited as an influence by Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican who co-sponsored the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act of 1985.
When it awarded him the 1986 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said that Mr. Buchanan had "transferred the concept of gain derived from mutual exchange between individuals to the realm of political decision-making."
Raised in Tennessee, Mr. Buchanan served in the Navy during World War II on the staff of Adm. Chester Nimitz. He said that he had been drawn to socialist ideas early on, but adopted free-market principles while studying at the University of Chicago with Frank Knight, who also mentored Nobel laureates Milton Friedman and George Stigler.
In 1962, with co-author Gordon Tullock, Mr. Buchanan published "The Calculus of Consent," which challenged the idea of government as a force for good. Experience showed, Mr. Buchanan later said, that "government did not behave benevolently; bureaucracies expanded exponentially; the welfare state itself created more demands than it satisfied."
After teaching at the University of Virginia and the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Mr. Buchanan moved to George Mason University, where he was director of the Center for Study of Public Choice.
Because much of his work occupied a kind of no man's land between economics and other disciplines, and because he was identified with conservative causes, Mr. Buchanan said he was surprised to be awarded the Nobel Prize.
"If Jim Buchanan could win a Nobel, anyone can," he was fond of saying.