This article explores James M. Buchanan’s contributions to urban economics and urban public finance. Buchanan never self-identified as an ‘urban economist’, so his contributions to the field have blended into his broader body of work on public finance and externalities. However, in a series of papers in the 1960s and 1970s, Buchanan developed an urban fiscal club framework for thinking about urban problems that he used to analyse cities’ tax policy and the negative externalities of congestion, crime and pollution. By drawing out those ideas and their relation to each other, we can reconstruct Buchanan as an urban economist. This reconstruction casts new light on Buchanan’s service with several academic and federal urban policy commissions, including the Committee on Urban Public Expenditures and Richard Nixon’s Task Force on Urban Affairs and Task Force on Model Cities. Buchanan’s interest in urban economics has roots in an often-ignored member of his dissertation committee, Harvey Perloff. Perloff’s joint appointment with the Chicago Planning Program brought Buchanan into contact with several urban planners and urban economists who would continue to engage him in urban policy work throughout his career.
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