Liberty Matters

Gordon as Outsider

I was talking with Steve Stigler last week at the University of Chicago celebration of his father's work —"Stigler in the 21st century" — about the Nobel snub of George Dantzig for linear programming.  The context is this: George Stigler's "diet problem" might be the most famous linear-programming solution in the years before Dantzig's simplex.  (The "Stigler diet" is now a Wikipedia entry with a link to modifications with cooking instructions! The claim that it is "delicious" might be evidence why one is well advised not believe things on the web! Steve pointed out that Dantzig had a considerable reputation as a statistician but none whatsoever as an economist. The Nobel Prize doesn't go to outsiders.
Does that explain the snub? Gordon was an outsider in all dimensions. He was outside social conventions even though he was an enormously sweet person. Our staff simply adored him. They understood he just wanted to play.  The reason Sandra Peart and I were so surprised about his tribute to Human Action is that colleagues who are deeply learned in the Austrian tradition did not connect him to that tradition. I suspect the Austrian tradition will come around to Gordon's point of view that one should separate purpose from awareness of purpose. The birds Gordon wrote about have a purpose, but they aren't aware of that purpose. One of Gordon's most amusing papers, "The Charity of the Uncharitable" (1971), shows how to model a very simple separation of purpose and awareness in collective-action settings.  Even though he was in correspondence with Karl Popper for 40 years, he has no reputation at all in philosophy of science. I suspect the work he did with I. J. Good is unknown outside of a narrow circle. (The Good Tullock correspondence is on our list of things to write up.)
It is hard to think of two scholars with more opposed views on probability than Good and Popper. Nonetheless, Gordon got on wonderfully with both. Maybe that's the benefit of being an outsider: you pose no threat.
Tullock, Gordon. 1971. "The Charity of the Uncharitable." Economy Inquiry 9: 349–452.