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More on MacLean’s Fiction

Here’s a letter to a correspondent who accuses me of failing to understand just how deviously Jim Buchanan’s work was “hijacked” by the rich and powerful as a means for furthering their devilish designs.

Mr. Tony Swoboda

Mr. Swoboda:

Thanks for your e-mail about Nancy MacLean’s smearing of my late colleague Jim Buchanan with baseless claims of racism.  You argue that, while Buchanan himself was neither racist nor motivated “by desires to enrich the superrich,” Buchanan’s public-choice scholarship was “naturally hijacked” by oligarchs “to rob the public.”

Nonsense.  If there’s one overarching theme to all of Buchanan’s work it’s that power is subject to abuse and, therefore, people who wish to be free and flourishing must devise ways to keep power over others to a minimum while simultaneously ensuring that collective goods are adequately supplied.  Exactly how rapacious oligarchs seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of the masses can use work such as Jim’s for nefarious ends is utterly unclear.

Indeed, one of the most foundational conclusions of public-choice scholarship is that government power is especially prone to be used to unjustly transfer wealth from people for whom political organization is difficult, such as consumers, to people for whom political organization is relatively easy, such as producers.  Public-choice scholarship persuasively explains the existence and persistence, for example, of policies such as tariffs and business subsidies – policies that pick the pockets of the ordinary many and fill the purses of the affluent few. Jim’s support for constitutionally limited government springs chiefly from his sincere desire to prevent such politically arranged theft.  It is, therefore, beyond comprehension how Prof. MacLean and you manage to leap from the fact that Buchanan insisted that government be kept constitutionally limited to the conclusion that Buchanan’s work supplies intellectual justification for the state to enrich the already-rich few at the expense of the not-so-rich many.

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