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Edited by Ross B. Emmett
Chapter 15: The Chicago Roots of the Virginia School
Gordon L. Brady* Introduction The story of the Virginia School of Political Economy is in large part the story of how graduates of the University of Chicago developed a new paradigm in a new location. As noted by Dennis C. Mueller in 1986, the founders were still working and imparting their insights some thirty years from the time James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock were first associated. Now, over twenty years later, this continues to be the case. In order to better understand the origins of the Virginia School, this chapter seeks to answer two questions. First, what are the distinctive characteristics of the Virginia School? Second, which of these characteristics have roots in the Chicago School? The latter question is most effectively addressed by focusing on James Buchanan. As an exercise in intellectual history, the chapter goes beyond economics to include the sociology of knowledge and an account of the strong-willed personalities at Chicago who had a major influence on Buchanan, the principal founder of the Virginia School. To some extent this process was replicated at UCLA where Armen A. Alchian (postdoctoral fellow, 1968) and Harold Demsetz (Chicago 1963–71), worked on the economics of property rights. An appropriate metaphor to describe these emissaries at UCLA and Virginia is that of spores. Those involved were characterized by a deep and abiding respect for the intellectual tradition of economics at the University of Chicago and through their achievements reflected well on their alma mater.1 From its roots in the late...
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