More MacLean Mistakes

by Don Boudreaux on August 2, 2017

in Books, Myths and Fallacies, Virginia Political Economy

Art Carden discovers yet another reckless error in Democracy in Chains – yet another instance in which Nancy MacLean makes it appear as if Jim Buchanan wrote something that he simply did not write.

While we’re on the subject of Buchanan’s influences and the origins of public choice, I remind readers that MacLean leaves unmentioned in Democracy in Chains Kenneth Arrow and several other prominent early contributors.  Another early and important contributor left unmentioned by MacLean is the late William Riker.  Joseph Schumpeter gets one mention in MacLean’s book [p. 135], but only as the scholar who made famous the phrase “creative destruction.”  Schumpeter’s anticipation – in his 1942 Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy – of important public-choice insights is ignored by MacLean.  Similarly, Bill Niskanen gets one lone mention – in the title of a blog post that MacLean cites [p. 291], and it’s only about how his death sparked a power struggle at the Cato Institute.  MacLean ignores Niskanen’s pioneering work on bureaucracies.

Also unmentioned in Democracy in Chains is the first and (so far) only woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics, Elinor Ostrom.  Elinor’s husband, Vincent, also is unmentioned.  The Ostroms’ work on collective decision-making and public administration is closely connected to public-choice scholarship.  (I first met Lin Ostrom at the 1988 Public Choice Society meetings in San Francisco.)

MacLean would have had quite a tough time of it to fashion a tale of how the central European Harvard economist Schumpeter, the Iowa-born University of Rochester political scientist Riker, the Oregon-born and Harvard-educated Niskanen, and the west-coast-born and long-time Indianan Ostroms were complicit in a racist scheme to make the world unsafe for democracy.

For the record, here are two more factual errors in MacLean’s book.  On page 85, when writing about how Ronald Coase was hired to the economics faculty at the University of Virginia, she describes Coase as “yet another University of Chicago Ph.D.”  Wrong.  Coase’s doctorate is from the University of London.  (‘Yet another University of London Ph.D.’ doesn’t carry quite the same oomph!)

Also, on page 310 of the Bibliography MacLean lists the 1998 book Politics by Principle, Not Interest as written exclusively by Buchanan.  In fact, it’s a book written by Buchanan and Roger Congleton.


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