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Russ Roberts on Nancy MacLean on Tyler Cowen on Democracy

In this short essay, Russ Roberts reports on his discovery in Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains, of what is either intentional misrepresentation by MacLean of Tyler Cowen’s view of democratic reform or MacLean’s reckless error in reporting on Tyler’s view.  Either way, MacLean – in trying to build a case that pro-market scholars such as Tyler and the late Jim Buchanan wished to subject the masses to the will and domination of plutocrats – indisputably misquotes Tyler in a way that makes his argument appear to the unsuspecting reader to be the opposite of what Tyler actually wrote.

I must assume that MacLean’s erroneous portrayal of Tyler’s view is the result of her recklessly careless reading of Tyler’s work rather than an intentional effort on her part to falsely portray Tyler.  Her portrayal of Tyler’s work is so obviously and unambiguously false to the mind of anyone who reads the paper of Tyler’s from which she quotes that it’s difficult to imagine that a mature scholar would intentionally misrepresent Tyler in the way that he is misrepresented in MacLean’s book.  A mature scholar – heck, even a graduate student – understands that the discovery and revelation of such a fraudulent portrayal would be inevitable and embarrassing.  So while I doubt that MacLean intentionally misrepresented Tyler’s view, her carelessness in grasping and reporting on that view is so great that deep suspicion should cloud all else that she writes.


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