Tullock Insults

by on August 17, 2006 at 7:04 am in Education | Permalink

Call me a masochist but one of the great pleasures of being at George Mason is that I am regularly insulted by Gordon Tullock.  You have to understand, however, that in my profession not to have been insulted by Gordon is to be a nobody.   

In anycase, here is one from yesterday.

"Gordon," I asked, "do you think we should ban child labor?"  "No, keep working."

The other day Gordon asked me to read one of his papers and I pointed out a few typos.  "Excellent," he said, "this will surely be your greatest contribution to economics."

Gordon is prone to pressing people with difficult questions.  One of my colleagues responded, "Gordon, I’m not that good at thinking on my feet."  Without missing a beat Gordon pulled up a chair and said "well sit down and we’ll see how you do then."

Comments are open if you would like to memorialize your own Gordon insults.

1 Chris Meisenzahl August 17, 2006 at 7:57 am

LMAO, good stuff. 😉

2 Barkley Rosser August 17, 2006 at 8:16 am

I will simply note that if Gordon actually says something good
about somebody to somebody else, he will sometimes cover this by
telling the first person how he avoided informing the second person
of the first person’s “criminal record.”

3 Barkley Rosser August 17, 2006 at 8:47 am


The introducer should have been pleased. As Tyler
noted, Tullock only insults if he takes one seriously.
If the introducer was really all that insulted, then
perhaps he really is a lightweight and knows it.
I am aware that there are many people who have reacted
as you have over the years to seeing such bantering,
most of them unaware of what is really going on.

4 Alex Tabarrok August 17, 2006 at 9:08 am

Many people have said that Gordon didn’t get the Nobel because he insulted too many people so ostap is not alone in his view. I can assure ostap, however, that Gordon is an equal opportunity insulter (if anything he reserves real zingers for the heavyweights). And Olympian? Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s not too late for Gordon to get the Nobel and without question he is deserving.

5 carpundit August 17, 2006 at 10:12 am

I accept the informed opinions here that tell us (in sum) Tullock is a genius and a sharp wit. I’ve never heard of the man, let alone met him, but it strikes me that someone who disparages a stranger in a professional setting, to the stranger’s great embarrassment, is more than an iconoclast; he is mean. Callous, at best.

6 Steve Horwitz August 17, 2006 at 10:17 am

A classic story from the late 80s at GMU… one day Gordon saw a bunch of us then-grad students in a conference room arguing some obscure point in Austrian economics. He popped his head in and said something like “You Austrian guys are nuts, but at least you’re enthusiastic!”

7 Barkley Rosser August 17, 2006 at 11:22 am

There is a long standing rumor that Tullock will some day
share a Nobel with Anne Krueger for the concept of rent
seeking. Tullock certainly identified, but Krueger later
named it. Such a choice would kill several birds with one

8 Jacqueline August 17, 2006 at 11:48 am

“You have to undestand, however,” …

Understand has an “r” in it.

Whee! I probably just made my greatest contribution to economics too! 🙂

9 Jonathan August 17, 2006 at 12:22 pm

No Tullock story, but in contrast to the post immediately above, Tjalling Koopmans was one of the nicest, least arrogant people I have ever met, and Jim Tobin wasn’t far behind.

10 Kieran August 17, 2006 at 1:48 pm

> Who is tullock? Is he eminent in his field?

This is the best putdown so far.

11 PJ August 17, 2006 at 2:42 pm

It is the prerogative of his colleagues, friends and family to tolerate this behavior. But there is no excuse for insulting someone in public, much less a fellow economist at a professional meeting. It’s not charming, clever, or eccentric.

I was trained in the Chicago tradition, but the even most academically arrogant Chicago ‘names’ I’ve encountered have been personally polite, especially when dealing with graduate students and ‘lightweights.’ Mr. Tullock seems to be the one exception.

It would appear that Mr. Tullock is a smart person. Just not as smart as he thinks he is.

12 Eric Crampton August 17, 2006 at 5:04 pm

Tullock and I share a birthday. Walking over to Buchanan House for a seminar, I told him we had something in common. He replied, “We’ll have to do something about that, won’t we.” When I later asked what he’d planned on doing about it, he informed me that he’d contacted some folks from upstate who’d arranged to have me shot. At his 80th birthday celebrations, I thanked him for throwing me such a great birthday party; he laughed and told me I’d be receiving the bill for the event in the mail.

My favorite Tullock insult, though, was levied at Walter Block. Block was presenting a paper at the Southerns in 1999. The paper was coauthored with Tom DiLorenzo; Walter, in his preamble to the presentation, noted that since his coauthor wasn’t there, all the errors in the piece were his. Tullock shot up, pointed at Walter, and said “DiLorenzo wrote the whole thing then, didn’t he!”

13 Currence August 17, 2006 at 6:08 pm

Reminds me somewhat of Paul Sally, a professor of math (“the math pirate”… he has an eye patch, and two prosthetic legs) here at UChicago.

I may be a masochist as well, as I love professors and academics who can deliver a quick-witted sting once in awhile… I have yet to be the target of any insults thus far, however, so I may be impartial.

14 Salvador August 17, 2006 at 8:41 pm

“Nice guys finish last”. Leo Durocher.
By the way, many here are insulting someone not present .What made you better?

15 Glen August 18, 2006 at 2:37 am

About 13 years ago, when I was still an undergrad, I ran into James Buchanan at a Cato event, and I happened to have my copy of Buchanan & Tullock’s _The Calculus of Consent_ with me. Without even being asked, Buchanan took the book and signed it.

Last year, at the SEA meetings, I had the same book with me — I was reading it again, because I surely didn’t really understand it the first time. Since Tullock was there, I decided it was only right that he should have a chance to sign also. Now an econ professor myself, I felt pretty silly doing this, but I pressed forward anyway. I sheepishly approached him, told him the story, and asked if he’d sign as well. As he signed it, Tullock said he’d be expecting a share of any proceeds from the book’s sale. I told he should have negotiated his share *before* signing.

16 JC August 18, 2006 at 7:33 am

During a conversation at a conference Tullock asked me to recall a passage from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” I replied that I had never read the story. He looked at me and said, “Your education is sorely lacking.”

17 mitch August 18, 2006 at 12:03 pm

“Do you think we should ban child labor?” is an odd question–you wouldn’t have been feeding him a straight line, would you?

18 Gary August 20, 2006 at 10:19 am

I was waiting for a plane in Chicago and spotted Gordon in the gate area. We were connecting from different cities in the Midwest. I boarded ahead of him and sat down in my first class seat, 2C. He came on board, looked at his seat (1B) and then at me and remarked, “I didn’t think they LET the lower classes up here.”

It was a late January day and snowing in DC. We landed at National Airport and I asked him how he’d be getting home. He was planning to take the metro (involving a change of trains and a walk in the snow). I insisted on giving him a ride. He tried to pay my $60 parking bill.

I wouldn’t let him, of course. But he really wanted to repay the kindness. He wouldn’t spring for the $15-$20 cab ride but he would pay $60 for my parking.

He has a sharp wit, he’s a bit (?) of an odd duck, and it’s just the way he relates to people. But he does have a heart of gold. He thinks he knows all the answers — something of an overestimation, I believe –, but I do value the difficult questions he asks.

19 Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard August 30, 2006 at 10:13 am

Let me join in with Gary, Alex and those others who are great fans of Gordon.

Yes, he is a slightly odd person. Yes, he may say things that offends some. But that said, he is a really great and kind person–and indeed generous–and very witty. I know that he does not come across like that to many, but I consider myself lucky to have seen the other side of it. Recently I had dinner with a very famous economist who is constantly mentioned as the next Nobel laureate; he told how when he was a young economist, Gordon had encouraged him to submit a paper to PC, which had been good for him and subsequently had become a quite often cited paper. I said, “Yeah, Gordon is a really nice person that way”–to which the economist replied with a smile, “You know, I actually think you are the first person I have ever heard refer to Gordon as ‘nice’! I wonder what Gordon would say?” Maybe so, but Gordon actually is nice.

Favourite personal Gordon-witticism? I have had several put-downs from him, but none–I am sorry to say–that have been particularly bad. Which I probably should consider an insult. But two exchanges I shall always remember:
– When I was 19 I heard and met Tullock for the first time. He asked me “What is your favourite literary work?” “Ehh … mmhhh …” He continued while I hesitated: “My favourite is ‘A Christmas Carrol’, except that Scrooge goes all soft at the end”.
– When I was 28 I and some other young libertarians/classical liberals met him at a conference, and one of them, a French fan of Gordon, said “Professeur Tullock, I am your greatest French admirer and a big libertarien. Could you please tell me …”, to which Gordon injected, “I am a utilitarian. Freedom is highly overrated.” It cracked me up, while the poor French fellow lost his jaw.

20 John October 8, 2006 at 10:39 pm

An earlier commenter gave the link to a page of “quotable Tullock,” which I followed and read. Much of it was funny, but this line jumped out at me as anything but:

“If we didn’t have homosexuals we wouldn’t have AIDS.”

I spent six years teaching at Mason (in the social sciences) before moving on to teach here in Baltimore, and I’d have to say that this is the first time I ever read a remark that left me ashamed of a former colleague.

This shows a daft misunderstanding of causality, at best. And at worst, when considering the myriad of necessary but not sufficient choices of causal influences on the existence and spread of AIDS, it shows a nasty strain of homophobia.

It’s fine–or at least accepted–that one can be glib, caustic, hyper critical, and partisan in the classroom. But this is just hateful and both intellectually and morally shameful.

21 bago October 11, 2006 at 7:26 am

The benefit of being a catty bitch is that you get to drive off people that would waste your time with pedantic arguments. That and it’s quite fun, and the main reason why old age and guile will beat youth, innocence, and a bad haircut on any day.

22 Marg July 15, 2008 at 1:30 am

I was Gordon’s admin asst when he held a chair professorship at the U of Arizona and I found him to be the best boss and one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. He did have a quirky (and a little intimidating at first) sense of humor but once I realized that was just his way, I thoroughly enjoyed him – and his sarcastic remarks. He showed me nothing but kindness and consideration the whole time I worked for him.

23 aion kina March 20, 2009 at 1:43 am
24 hollister uk July 28, 2010 at 4:12 am

dazzling and outstanding; every girl will be happier

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