Gordon Tullock Obituary

Gordon  Tullock
Gordon C. Tullock
Gordon Tullock

February 13, 1922 - November 3, 2014
Resided in Des Moines, IA
  • Contat Us
  • Guestbook
  • Photos
  • Services
  • Send Flowers


Gordon C. Tullock, 92, passed from this life on Monday, November 3, 2014, at Wesley Acres in Des Moines. In agreement with his wishes, cremation rites have been accorded and no services will be held. A Private committal service will take place at a later date.

Gordon Tullock was born in Rockford, Illinois on February 13, 1922. His father, George was a hardy Midwesterner of Scottish ancestry, his mother, Helen, was of equally hardy Pennsylvania Dutch stock. He obtained his basic education in the public schools of that city, displaying from early childhood a superior intellectual ability that clearly distinguished him from his peers. In 1940, Tullock departed for the School of Law at the University of Chicago to combine a two-year program of undergraduate courses with a four-year formal law program. In fact, he completed the initial two­ year program in a single year.

His law school program was interrupted by his being drafted into military service as an infantry rifleman in 1943, but not before he had all but completed a one semester course in economics taught by Henry Simons. This course was to be Tullock's only formal exposure to economics, a fact that no doubt enhanced rather than hindered his future success in contributing highly original ideas to that discipline. Tullock served in the US military until shortly after the end of hostilities, returning to civilian life in December 1945. He took part in the Normandy landings on D-Day + 7 as a member of the Ninth Infantry. His life almost certainly was spared by the good fortune of his being left behind at division headquarters to defend three anti­tank guns. The original members of the Ninth Infantry were decimated on their hard fought route across France and into Germany.

Following behind, Tullock eventually would cross the Rhine, he claims, while still asleep. Ultimately, he would end up in the Russian sector. Although Tullock modestly dismisses his wartime service as uneventful, this can only be with the advantage of hindsight and considerable modesty. Participation in a major land war as part of 'the poor bloody infantry' is never without the gravest of risks.

Following this three-year wartime interruption, Tullock returned to Chicago and obtained a Juris Doctor degree from the Chicago Law School in 1947. He failed to remit the $5 payment required by the University and thus never received a baccalaureate degree.

His initial career, as an attorney with a small but prestigious downtown Chicago law firm, was controversial and, perhaps, mercifully brief. During his five-month tenure, Tullock handled two cases. The first case he won when he was expected to lose, and only after one of the partners in his firm had advised his client not to pursue the matter. The second case he lost when he should have won and he was admonished by the court for his poor performance (Brady and Tollison, 1991, 1994, 2). Fortunately for the world of ideas, these events persuaded him to seek out an alternative career.

Prior to graduation, Tullock had passed the notoriously difficult Foreign Service Examination. He joined the Foreign Service in fall 1947 and received an assignment as vice consul in Tientsin, China. This two-year assignment included the Communist takeover in 1948. Following Tullock's return to the United States, the Department of State dispatched him to Yale University (1949-1951) and then to Cornell University (1951-1952) for advanced study of the Chinese language.

In late 1952, he joined the 'Mainland China' section of the Consulate General in Hong Kong. Some nine months later he was reassigned to the political section of the U.S. Embassy in Korea, where, once again, he would briefly be overrun by communist insurgents. Tullock returned to the United States in January 1955, where he was assigned to the State Department's Office of Intelligence and Research in Washington. He resigned from the Foreign Service in fall 1956.

Over the next two years, Tullock held several positions, including most notably that of research director of the Princeton Panel, a small subsidiary of the Gallup organization in Princeton. Essentially, he was in transition, marking time until he was ready to make a bid for entry into academia.

Unusually, Tullock had already published in leading economics journals articles on hyperinflation and monetary cycles in China and on the Korean monetary and fiscal system even during his diplomatic service, thus whetting his own appetite for an academic career and signaling an unusual facility for observing his environment as the basis for creative thinking. Furthermore, he had read and had been intellectually excited by the writings of such scholars as Joseph Schumpeter (1942), Duncan Black (1948) and Anthony Downs (1957), scholarship that provided the basis for reintegrating economics with political science within a strictly rational choice framework. In short, Tullock was ready to play a significant role in extending the empire of economics into the territory of contiguous disciplines.

In fall 1958, at age 36, he accepted a one-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Thomas Jefferson Center for Political Economy at the University of Virginia. Still a relatively unknown quantity at that time, Tullock nevertheless brought with him to the Center two indispensable assets, namely a brilliant and inquiring, if still-unfocused, intellect and an unbounded enthusiasm for his adopted discipline of political economy. Quickly he forged a bond with the Director of the Center, James M. Buchanan, a bond that would result in some of the most original and important political-economic scholarship of the mid-twentieth century.

His fellowship year at the Center was productive, resulting in a path-breaking publication on the problem of majority voting (Tullock, 1959). In fall 1959, Tullock was appointed as Assistant Professor in the Department of International Studies at the University of South Carolina. Publications continued to flow (Tullock, 196la, b) while Tullock crafted a seminal draft paper entitled 'An Economic Theory of Constitutions' (Tullock, 1959) that would become the fulcrum for The Calculus of Consent (Buchanan and Tullock, 1962).

On this basis, Tullock quickly advanced to the rank of Associate Professor before returning to the University of Virginia, and renewing his relationship with James Buchanan, in February 1962, just as the University of Michigan Press was publishing their seminal book, The Calculus of Consent. In 1966, Tullock edited and published the first issue of Papers on Non-Market Decision Making, the precursor to the journal, Public Choice. Between 1962 and 1967, Tullock published innovative books on bureaucracy (Tullock, 1965), on method (Tullock, 1966) and on public choice (Tullock, 1967a) as well as a rising volume of scholarly papers that earned him international recognition as a major scholar.

Despite this distinguished resume, Tullock would be denied promotion to Full Professor of Economics on three consecutive occasions by a politically hostile and fundamentally unscholarly University administration. In fall 1967, Buchanan protested these negative decisions by resigning to take up a position at the University of California at Los Angeles. Tullock also resigned to become Professor of Economics and Political Science at Rice University. With Ronald Coase having resigned for similar reasons in 1964 to take up a position at the University of Chicago, it appeared that the nascent Virginia School of Political Economy might have been deliberately nipped in the bud by the left-leaning administration of the University of Virginia.

As a result of a successful initiative by Charles J. Goetz, the University of Virginia plot failed. Goetz succeeded in attracting Tullock to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg as Professor of Economics and Public Choice in fall 1968. Goetz and Tullock immediately established the Center for Studies in Public Choice in 1968, as the basis for promoting scholarship in the field and as a means of attracting James Buchanan to join them at VPI. This initiative bore fruit in 1969, when James Buchanan joined the VPI faculty and assumed the General Directorship of the Center, which was immediately renamed as the Center for Study of Public Choice. Simultaneously, Tullock renamed his journal Public Choice and the new sub-discipline set down fruitful roots in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

Henceforth, Tullock would never again look back. Over the next one-third of a century he forged for himself a reputation as a brilliant entrepreneurial scholar and a formidable debater. To this day, even in retirement, he refuses to rest on well-earned laurels as a Founding Father of three sub-disciplines of economics, namely public choice, law and economics and bio-economics.

Universities have recognized his contributions by appointing him to a sequence of Distinguished Chairs (VPI & SU 1972-1983, George Mason University 1983-1987 and 1999-2008, and the University of Arizona 1987-1999). Professional associations have honored him by electing him to their presidencies (Public Choice, the Southern Economic Association, the Western Economic Association, the International Bio­ Economics Society, the Atlantic Economic Society and the Association for Free Enterprise Education). 1n 1992, an Honorary Doctorate of Laws was conferred on him by the University of Chicago, in 1996 he was elected to the American Political Science Review Hall of Fame and in 1998 he was recognized as a Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association. These awards and honors reflect powerful entrepreneurial contributions across three major scholarly disciplines.

In September 2008, at age 86, Tullock officially retired from George Mason University and linked up with his sister, Mary Lou and his brother-in-law, Bob Gunderson, to continue his scholarship far away from the politically-polluted atmosphere of Washington, DC, basking in the crystalline blue skies of Tucson, Arizona, no doubt under the heavenly surveillance of the former true 'Lion of the Senate', Barry Goldwater.

He will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved him.

Gordon is survived and lovingly remembered by his sister, Mary Lou Gunderson and her husband, Bob of Des Moines; and several extended family members.





Funeral Home
Dunn's Funeral Home
2121 Grand Ave.
Des Moines, IA US 50312