Robert D. Tollison (1942–October 24, 2016) was an American economist who specialized in public choice theory.

Robert Tollison
Robert D. Tollison.jpg
1964 yearbook photo
DiedOctober 24, 2016
NationalityUnited States
FieldEconomics, Public Choice
School or
Public Choice school
Information at IDEAS / RePEc


A native of Spartanburg, South Carolina, Tollison attended local Wofford College where he earned an A.B. in business administration and economics in 1964. He completed an M.A. in economics at the University of Alabama a year later.[1] After completing his master's in Tuscaloosa, Tollison moved to Virginia to begin teaching at Longwood University, then called "Longwood College." Shortly thereafter he commenced work on his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Virginia. He finished his doctoral degree in 1969.[1]

Professional lifeEdit

Tollison's first academic position as a Ph.D. was at Cornell University, where he would teach from 1969 until 1973. He then took a job at Texas A&M University where he became the economics department head after a little more than a year. He held this position with Texas A&M until 1977 when, after having spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Miami's law school, Tollison accepted a new post at Virginia Tech as professor in that school's economics department. Tollison left Virginia Tech in 1981 to work in various roles with the Federal Trade Commission until 1983.

After leaving the FTC, Tollison returned to academia, eventually teaching at Clemson University, George Mason University, the University of Mississippi,[2] Arizona State University, and Florida State University. He was on the editorial boards for the Journal of Sports Economics, Constitutional Political Economy,[3] and Public Choice.[4] He was on the board of advisors for the Independent Institute.

At the time of his death, he was Professor of Economics and BB&T Senior Fellow at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina.


Tollison's areas of particular interest included the economics of religion, history of economic thought, sports economics, antitrust theory, and tobacco policy. His textbook with Robert Ekelund, Economics, is now in its seventh edition.


According to a Libertarian Forum review of Tollison and Ekelund's Mercantilism as a Rent Seeking Society, a study of the political economy of mercantilism,

...using public choice analysis, Ekelund and Tollison assert that English mercantilism declined because the rise of parliamentary power raised the lobbying costs for monopoly privileges. As parliament refused to delegate its newly won powers to anybody, any prospective monopolist had to secure majorities in the legislature as well as the acquiescence of the king.... [T]he authors stress the similarity between mercantilism and present-day economic regulation, despite the changes in the political system.[5]

Economics of sportsEdit

Tollison's The National Collegiate Athletic Association: A Study in Cartel Behavior, in addition to a number of journal articles on the economics of sports,[6][7] led to Tollison's work being frequently cited in the area of sports economics.[8]

Economics of smokingEdit

Robert Tollison came to the attention of the tobacco industry in 1977 when he co-authored an article: "Rational Choice and the Taxation of Sin", in the Journal of Public Economics, attacking the way governments imposed "their moral code upon consumers of goods that are thought to be undesirable." [9] He was a Professor of Economics at Virginia Polytechnic at the time, and also the executive director of the Center for Study of Public Choice which advocated an extreme unregulated free-market (Hayekian) position for any consumer products.

In this same year the global tobacco industry held a secret Operation Berkshire meeting in the UK which set up the first international lobby group in Brussels, the International Committee on Smoking Issues (ICOSI), which had a committee called the Social Acceptability Working Party (SAWP) charged with countering the growing public rejection of smoking. Tollison and his associate Richard E. Wagner were hired to mount arguments against the notion that smoking imposed a Social Cost on society,[10] and therefore governments had the rights and responsibilities to regulate the practice. [11]

Tollison's contacts through the Public Choice Society and the Center for Study of Public Choice made him a prime recruiter and sub-contractor/editor for the tobacco industry among prominent economists willing to work for the tobacco industry. [12] His wife Anna was employed to run the Center after it was transferred over to George Mason University, and it became the money-laundering channel for economics professors they set about recruiting on a national scale. Contracted economists generally wrote articles for their newspapers, argued the case against smoking restrictions on the basis of cost-benefit analysis, and also used the argument of a human right to engage in any activity they wished. [13]

By 1984, The US Tobacco Industry had placed Tollison under the control of Jim Savarese, a professional lobbyist working through Ogilvy & Mather [Savarese and Tollison later formed a partnership - James Savarese & Assoc.] [14] They specialised now in attacking the World Health Organisation (WHO) which ran a global anti-smoking program. [15] and the US Cigarette Excises. [16] [17]

This year also saw the beginning of what became known as the "Cash-for-Comments Economists Network" where economists around the USA were paid to write op-eds to their local newspapers, and were paid on results. This network was formalised in 1984, with moves to recruit one Professor of Economics in each state. [18] [19]

Eventually they recruited over a hundred Professors of Economics, most at low-paid State Universities,[20] with the aim of having one on tap at all times to write op-eds for their local newspaper, and contact their Congressmen. They agreed to draft their articles and send them to the Tobacco Institute where they were checked and 'improved'. They were paid a bonus for sending the printed article to a designated Congressman. There was a high turnover during the decades that this network operated.[21] [22]


As authorEdit

  • Balanced Budgets, Fiscal Responsibility, and the Constitution with Richard E. Wagner. San Francisco, CA: Cato Institute, 1980.
  • Politicians, Legislation, and the Economy: An Inquiry into the Interest Group Theory of Government with R. McCormick. Boston, MA: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981.
  • Mercantilism as a Rent Seeking Society with Robert Ekelund. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1982.
  • El Analisis Economico De Lo Politico with James M. Buchanan and R.E. McCormick. Madrid, Spain: Instituto de Estudios Economicos, 1984.
  • Economics with R. Ekelund. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1986.
  • Smoking and the State with R. Wagner. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1988.
  • Concentration and Competition: The Economics of the Carbonated Soft Drink Industry with D. Kaplan and R. Higgins. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1990.
  • The Economics of Smoking: Getting It Right with R. Wagner. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991.
  • The National Collegiate Athletic Association: A Study in Cartel Behavior with A. Fleisher and B. Goff. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
  • Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm with R. Ekelund, R. Hebert, G. Anderson, and A. Davis. London: Oxford University Press, 1996.ISBN 978-0-19-535603-8
  • Politicized Economies: Monarchy, Monopolies, and Mercantilism with R. Ekelund. College Station, TX: Texas A&M Press, 1997.


As editorEdit

  • Theory of Public Choice: Political Applications of Economics with James M. Buchanan. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1972.
  • The Economic Approach to Public Policy: Selected Readings with R. Amacher and T. Willett. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976.
  • What Should Economists Do? by James M. Buchanan; compiled and edited with Geoffrey Brennan. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Press, 1979.
  • The Political Economy of Antitrust Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1980.
  • Towards a Theory of the Rent Seeking Society with James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1980.
  • Theory of Public Choice II with James M. Buchanan. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1984.
  • Smoking and Society: Toward a Balanced Assessment Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1986. (Japanese translation, 1987)
  • Deficits with James M. Buchanan and Charles Rowley. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1987. (Japanese translation, 1990)
  • Economics: Between Predictive Science and Moral Philosophy by James M. Buchanan; compiled and edited with V. Vanberg. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1987.
  • Clearing the Air: Perspectives on Environmental Tobacco Smoke Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1988. (Spanish translation, 1989)
  • The Political Economy of Rent Seeking with C. Rowley and G. Tullock. Boston, MA: Kluwer, 1988.
  • Explorations into Constitutional Economics by James M. Buchanan; compiled and edited with V. Vanber. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1989.
  • Predicting Politics: Essays in Empirical Public Choice with M. Crain. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1990.
  • Sportometrics with B. Goff. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1990.
  • The Next Twenty Five Years of Public Choice with C. Rowley and F. Schneider. Boston, MA: Kluwer, 1993.
  • On the Trail of Homo Economicus by Gordon Tullock; compiled and edited with G. Brady. Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Press, 1994.
  • The Economic Analysis of Rent Seeking with R. Congleton. London, England: Edward Elgar, 1995. (Japanese translation, 2002)
  • The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan compiled and edited with G. Brennan and H. Kliemt. (20 volumes) Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1999–2002.
  • Method and Morals in Constitutional Economics: Essays in Honor of James M. Buchanan with G. Brennan and H. Kliemt. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag, 2002.
  • The Economics of Budget Deficits with W. Shughart and C. Rowley. (two volumes) London, England: Elgar, 2002.


  1. ^ a b Tollison, Robert D. Curriculum vitae. University of Mississippi[dead link]
  2. ^ "Faculty homepage for Robert Tollison." University of Mississippi[dead link]
  3. ^ "Faculty bio: Robert Tollison" Clemson University[dead link]
  4. ^ "Public Choice Journal." The Locke Institute Archived 2010-01-16 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Cooper, Richard A. "Mercantilism and Public Choice." Libertarian Forum. November/December 1983. [1]
  6. ^ McCormick, Robert E. and Robert Tollison. "Why do black basketball players work more for less money?" Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. Vol. 44(2). [2]
  7. ^ Goff, Brian L. and William F. Shughart and Robert Tollison. "Moral Hazard and the Effects of the Designated Hitter Rule Revisited," Economic Inquiry. Vol. 36(4). [3]
  8. ^ "Citations of Robert D. Tollison." IDEAS
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