James M. Buchanan Jr.’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1986
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is, indeed, a unique experience for me, so much so that I feel very much like the blind man in the nudist camp. I am feeling my way around. More seriously, I have the particular privilege of paying tribute to that great Swede, Knut Wicksell, whose ideas were so important in shaping my own. Ninety years ago, Wicksell sought unsuccessfully to extend economic science to political process. He identified the normative contradiction between treating individuals as ultimate sources of value and assessing the performance of “the economy” or “the polity” against non-individualistic standards.
Knut Wicksell provided me with a research agenda that was almost open-ended. My professor at the University of Chicago, Frank Knight, provided the role model for skeptical, critical courage that enabled me to challenge mainstream orthodoxy along the lines dictated by the Wicksellian program. Frank Knight both invested in me, and influenced me, because he and I personally shared an upbringing in the rural agricultural poverty of mid-America, as well as locational experiences in both Tennessee, my native state, and Virginia, my adopted state.
For my colleagues, friends, and guests from these states here, however, I must confess to a failure. Try as I may, I have been totally unable to establish any relationship between that great Swede Knut Wicksell and either Tennessee or Virginia.
Finally, let me add, and enthusiastically, that, in your capacities as hosts to me, my family and guests, this week, you have all, indeed, proven to be great Swedes.