Friday, June 30, 2017


History in Chains
Democracy in Chains has recently been published, authored by Nancy MacLean, the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University. It is the story of James Buchanan, the Nobel Prize winning economist, and his putative influence in American economic thinking.
I can not remember a recent economic book that has engendered so much scorn and anger.  
Capital in the Twenty-First Century  by French economist Thomas Piketty caused a lot of discussion and disagreement but this book is being reviled. The book seems to be constructed on a foundation of innuendo and calumny aimed at political positions the author does not like. She may not get away with it.

Here is a portion of a letter to the editor by someone who knew Buchanan:
"Even more astonishing is MacLean’s assertion that Buchanan-style libertarians’ “fundamental core concepts” come from John C. Calhoun.  Her only evidence for this claim – namely, that Calhoun was mentioned as an influence by the libertarian Murray Rothbard – isn’t evidence at all.  Buchanan was no great admirer of Rothbard, and the number of times that Calhoun is cited in any of Buchanan’s published works is zero.  As in “never.” Not once.  (I knew Buchanan for the last 28 years of his life and I do not recall ever hearing Jim mention Calhoun.)
The scholars that Buchanan did admire and cite most frequently, and who truly are major sources of the ideas that form the core of Buchanan-style libertarianism, are Adam Smith, James Madison, the Swedish economist Knut Wicksell, the American economist Frank Knight, and the Austrian-British economist F.A. Hayek.  (Buchanan had pictures of only two people hanging in his office: one of Wicksell and the other of Knight.)  That MacLean attempts to tarnish the scholarship and motives of Jim Buchanan by suggesting, without a shred of evidence, that his understanding of, and support for, private property rights spring from the ideas of an infamous apologist for chattel slavery is reason enough to dismiss anything that MacLean writes about Buchanan personally or about the classical-liberal tradition that Jim did so much to strengthen."

And this:
Unfortunately, anyone who takes the time to read the actual sources she’s working from, or who understands public choice theory, can see this exercise for what it is: a travesty of scholarly standards (no, Charles Dickens’ novels do not count as data about the economic conditions of the 19th century) and a smear job on one of the great minds of the 20th century.--Steve Horowitz

And this:
Once again, Nancy MacLean went casting about for a link between James Buchanan and unsavory connections to white supremacist viewpoints – this time by way of [John C.] Calhoun. Once again, she was unable to find any evidence of that connection in Buchanan’s own works. So what did she do instead? She invented one by stringing together other sources that do not actually show what she claims they show. And in fact, she failed to realize that the author she uses to build a link from Buchanan to Calhoun – Murray Rothbard – was deeply hostile to Buchanan’s own work, directly contradicting her claimed link.--Phil Magness

And this:
So, along comes Nancy MacLean. The government paid her over $50,000 to smear Buchanan and people like him. Rather than challenge his ideas, she accuses him of this and that. Yet, all the while, Nancy is quite literally a hired gun for the government seeking to rationalize its oppression and abuses.
It’s a bad book, and you, might notice, not peer-reviewed. But keep in mind it is quite literally a piece of government-funded propaganda. There’s no more point in arguing with Nancy than there is arguing with one of Goebbels’s essays. Asking about its intellectual value is a category mistake.--Jason Brennen

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