Nancy MacLean’s Third-Grader Defense

by Don Boudreaux on October 20, 2017

in Books, Myths and Fallacies

In today’s “Best of the Web” at the Wall Street Journal, James Freeman features one of Phil Magness’s most-recent revelations of the shoddy ‘research’ that characterizes Nancy MacLean’s fabulist tale Democracy in Chains.  Freeman reports that he e-mailed MacLean to give her the opportunity to defend herself against Phil’s charge.  MacLean replied to the first of Mr. Freeman’s e-mails:

Ms. MacLean said via email that Mr. Magness is “wrong about the facts of Virginia history” but has not responded to a follow-up question asking specifically which of the publications carried Buchanan’s work

Of course, MacLean’s reply to Mr. Freeman is no defense whatsoever.  It’s the equivalent of a third-grader saying “Nuhh unhhhh!” in response to a classmate’s truthful charge that she cheated while playing some game during recess on the schoolyard.

Anyone receiving an inquiry from a publication as prominent and as widely circulated as the Wall Street Journal would leap at the opportunity to share specific evidence of his or her accuser’s errors – anyone, that is, who actually has such evidence.  The fact that MacLean responds only with the equivalent of ‘Nuhh unhhhh!’ – the fact that she responds only with an unsubstantiated charge against Phil – is itself evidence as powerful as such evidence gets in such cases that she, in fact, has no credible evidence to point to in order to support her charge that Phil’s recounting of a slice of Virginia history is “wrong.”  If MacLean has such evidence, she’d be delighted to share that evidence in the prominent pages of the WSJ.

So I ask: how can MacLean get by without offering a single substantive defense of herself?  Her defense of her completely misleading quotation of Tyler Cowen – namely, that she quoted him in light of the “totality” of his work – would be a poor defense even if Tyler had elsewhere expressed sentiments of the sort that she falsely portrays him as expressing in her misquotation of him.  (See here, here, and here.)  But nothing in Tyler’s vast corpus of work supports MacLean’s quotation or her interpretation of the “totality” of Tyler’s work.

Has MacLean offered any substantive defense against even one of the dozens and dozens of specific charges of inaccuracy leveled against Democracy in Chains?  If so, I’ve not seen it.  Her defenses consist chiefly in accusing those who question the accuracy of her work of being participants in some shady conspiracy against her.  This ‘defense,’ of course, is itself based on zero evidence.  (And speaking as one of MacLean’s critics, I attest and solemnly swear on all that I hold dear that I am part of no conspiracy, organized or un.  I criticize MacLean’s work simply because I cannot abide the absurd portrayal of Jim Buchanan and of public choice that is presented in her fabulist tale.)

I challenge MacLean to offer a defense against even just one of the charges against her book.  (Note: defenses rooted in ad hominem accusations are not substantive.)  I challenge MacLean to offer evidence that even one of the many charges against her work is flawed or inapposite.  Surely a chaired professor of history at one of the world’s most prestigious research universities can offer substantive evidence in defense of at least one of the many charges against her book.

……

MacLean refuses to engage with her critics, again asserting that our motives are impure.  But ask yourself: if you were MacLean, subject as you are to a fusillade of specific charges of inaccuracies and falsehoods, wouldn’t you leap at the opportunity to defend yourself with evidence or logical argumentation if you could?  The only sensible conclusion to draw from MacLean’s continuing refusal to offer any substantive defense of her work is that she has no such defense to offer.  So she hides behind ad hominem fallacies and unsupported accusations.  She hides.  She doesn’t defend herself because, well, she has no substantive defense to offer.  What other reason can there be?

Here, by the way, is yet more on MacLean’s fallacies from Phil Magness.

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on October 20, 2017

in Virginia Political Economy

… is from page 31 of the 2000 Liberty Fund edition of Geoffrey Brennan’s and James Buchanan’s important 1985 volume, The Reason of Rules:

Almost all of our ordinary behavior takes place within a well-defined structure of legal rules.  In politics, however, the notion that collectivities, governments, also behave and should behave within the constraints of well-defined rules seems less “natural.”  The notion that constitutions define the limits of political authority is an abstraction that seems difficult for many to comprehend.

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Anyone who still clings to the fantastic notion that Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains is a serious work of scholarship that deserves its nomination for the 2017 National Book Award – rather than a sack of comical errors and astonishing ignorance the publication of which would deeply embarrass any serious scholar – should read this new post by Phil Magness.  Here’s Phil’s conclusion:

So there you have it. A finalist for the 2017 National Book Award appears to have been built upon a typo.

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Matt Ridley laments the juvenile attachment to virtue signaling.

Speaking of costs and distractions of virtue signaling, if you really want to reduce gun violence, press for an end to the so-called “war on drugs.

Are Thomas Piketty’s data reliable?

John Tamny busts mercantilist myths about the consequences of government subsidies.

Here’s the opening paragraph to a recent, superb essay by Mike Munger:

People sometimes ask me, “What is the most important concept in political economy?” The answer is easy, but subtle: permissionless innovation, a strong presumption in favor of allowing experimentation with new technologies and with new business platforms that use those technologies. A lot has been written about why this vague concept is so powerful (my own go-to source is Adam Theirer’s Permissionless Innovation).

Gary Galles celebrates the work of Benjamin Constant.

In this video, GMU Econ alum (and Hillsdale College economics professor) Ivan Pongracic discusses public choice.

Scott Sumner identifies a cognitive bias in some behavioral economists (as well as in some New York Times pundits).

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on October 19, 2017

in Growth, Trade

… is from pages 297-298 of the 2015 Fourth Edition of Douglas Irwin’s indispensable volume, Free Trade Under Fire (footnotes deleted; link added):

Time and experience demonstrated that globalization did not lead to an intensification of poverty.  Instead, expanding world trade proved to be an escalator for bringing poor people out of poverty.  Between 1990 and 2011, the portion of the world’s population living in poverty fell from 36 to 15 percent, according to the World Bank.  The International Labor Office reported that the number of workers in the world earning less than $1.25 a day has fallen to 375 million in 2013 from 811 in 1991.  The past two decades have seen extraordinary progress in poverty reduction in the developing world.  Who should get the credit, the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations and other international aid agencies?  Not quite.  As The Economist put it, “The MDGs may have helped marginally, by creating a yardstick for measuring progress, and by focusing minds on the evil of poverty.  Most of the credit, however, must go to capitalism and free trade, for they enable economies to grow – and it was growth, principally, that has eased destitution.”

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… is from page 257 of my late Nobel-laureate colleague Jim Buchanan’s brilliant 1979 paper “Natural and Artifactual Man” as this paper is reprinted in volume 1 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan: The Logical Foundations of Constitutional Liberty (1999):

To rationalize or to explain choices in terms of either genetic endowments or social environment removes the elements of freedom and responsibility.  “Natural man,” in the model of some behavioral responder to stimuli, akin to my dog, contradicts both the notion of individual liberty and that of individual responsibility for the consequences of the choices made.  Man must bear the responsibilities for his own choices because of his artifactual nature, because he has available to him alternative “choosables,” to use [George] Shackle’s term, because man makes his own history.

If individual man is to be free, he is to be held accountable, he is to be deemed responsible for his actions.  But at the same time he is allowed to take credit for his achievement.

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Bill Shughart remembers the great Fred McChesney.  David Henderson also remembers Fred.

Here’s an op-ed that Fred had two years ago in the Washington Post; it showcases Fred’s scholarly creativity and insightfulness.

Inu Manak is right to call on everyone simply to cool it on protectionism.

Gary Wolfram explains the solid case against prohibitions on so-called “price gouging.

Shikha Dalmia rightly scolds Trumpian nativists.

Bryan Caplan reflects on his recent debate on immigration.

Nicolas Cachanosky warns of the danger of populism.

Brittany Hunter correctly points out that technology is no friend of monopolists or of monopolist wannabes.

Richard Epstein explores efforts to make health care in America great again.

Sheldon Richman ponders the state of freedom in America today.

In my latest column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review I emphasize the unpopular but indisputably correct reality that a society with mass prosperity cannot also be a society with security in particular jobs.  A slice:

Indeed, in the U.S. today, roughly 1.7 million jobs are destroyed each month. Compare that to the total of U.S. jobs destroyed by increased trade with China between 1999 and 2011: 2.4 million. That’s correct: In less than any ordinary two-month period in America, the total number of jobs destroyed is greater than the number of jobs destroyed by trade with China during the 21st century’s entire first decade. If you wonder why we’re not suffering massive unemployment, the reason is that, on average, slightly more than 1.7 million jobs are created each month.

Jobs are constantly being destroyed while others are created — a necessary feature of the market economy which generates our enormously high standard of living. Our widespread prosperity would be impossible without it.

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Exports are Costs; Imports are Benefits

by Don Boudreaux on October 17, 2017

in Myths and Fallacies, Trade

Here’s a letter to a regular e-mail correspondent, Nolan McKinney:

Mr. McKinney:

You write that “exports are at least as much a benefit to us as our imports are.”

With respect, you’re mistaken.  To see why, look at the matter at the level of your household.  What you export from your household is your labor; what you import are the goods and services that you purchase with your income.  Suppose that you were given the option of continuing to do one or the other of these activities but not both.  That is suppose that you could either (a) continue to export (that is, continue to work) but no longer import (that is, no longer bring into your household any goods and services) or (b) continue to import into your household goods and services for your consumption but no longer work.  Which option – (a) or (b) – would you choose?

You would clearly choose option (b).*  The reason is that you supply the fruits of your labor to others in order to increase your ability to consume.  What you export from your household is a cost that you willingly incur in order to be able to import into your household the goods and services that you and your family consume.  What is true at the level of the household is here true at the level of the national economy: the goods and services that Americans export to foreigners are the costs that we willingly incur in order to be able to import into our country the goods and services that we receive from foreigners in exchange.  Exports are the means; imports are the end.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* If I’m mistaken and you’d choose option (a), please call me as I have several household repairs to be done and I’d be delighted to have you do the repairs for me for free.

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Steeling

by Don Boudreaux on October 17, 2017

in Crony Capitalism, Myths and Fallacies, Seen and Unseen, Trade, War

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Nucor Steel CEO John Ferriola doth protest too much against free trade for the steel industry (Letters, Oct. 17).  He starts by complaining that Chinese steel is subsidized and ends by asserting that U.S. steel producers should be protected from foreign competition because such protection will strengthen U.S. national defense.

If the national-defense argument is valid, then the reason for the low prices of foreign-made steel is irrelevant.  National-defense considerations should, by Mr. Ferriola’s reckoning, suffice to justify steel tariffs even if the low prices of Chinese steel stem from Chinese steel producers’ genuine efficiency advantages.  So if Mr. Ferriola is truly concerned about national defense, what’s the point of his complaining about the alleged subsidies?

But the national-defense argument is almost certainly invalid.  Forget that any subsidies bestowed by Beijing on Chinese steel producers make the overall Chinese economy less productive than it would otherwise be.  Focus instead on the reality that protecting U.S. steel producers from foreign competition dampens innovation not only in the U.S. steel industry but also in those American industries that produce goods that compete with steel – goods such as aluminum and carbon fiber.  There’s no substitute for the spur of competition to incite businesses to find ways to improve the quality of their outputs and to lower their production costs.  Therefore, government protection of U.S. steelmakers results, over time, in the quality of American-made steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, and other such materials being lower than it would be with the competition of free trade, and the costs of these materials being higher.

How lower-quality U.S. steel and other outputs produced at unnecessarily high costs will strengthen U.S. national defense is a deep mystery.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on October 17, 2017

in Regulation, Seen and Unseen, Trade

… is from page 58 of my Mercatus Center colleague (and GMU Econ alum) James Broughel’s excellent new book, Regulation and Economic Growth (citation omitted):

A key insight from trade theory in recent decades has been that open trade gives firms access to a greater variety of more highly specialized production inputs.  Access to such resources allows firms greater opportunity to specialize and differentiate their products.  Firms and, indeed, whole industries may face increasing returns to scale for just these kinds of reasons.  Therefore, regulations in the form of trade restrictions have limited the ability of firms to specialize and to take advantage of increasing returns to scale where it exists.

DBx: James here identifies one of the very many reasons why Trump and other economic nationalists who propose to use trade restrictions to make “make America great again” don’t know that they’re talking about.

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