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Occam’s Razor Isn’t Meant to Slash Reality

In my latest column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I warn against simplistic thinking – simplistic thinking of the sort that runs throughout Nancy MacLean’s latest book.  A slice from my column:

Or consider Duke University historian Nancy MacLean’s thesis in her new book, “Democracy in Chains.” MacLean argues that Nobel laureate economist James Buchanan (1919-2013) was secretly a racist enemy of the people and friend of rich oligarchs.

Her evidence? None, really — except that Buchanan eloquently and often argued that democracy works only if it is properly restrained by constitutional rules. Because Buchanan’s assessment of the workings of majoritarian democracy was less rosy than is MacLean’s, MacLean simplistically concludes that Buchanan sought to silence voters so that oligarchs may run roughshod over them.

Those of us who are deeply familiar with Buchanan’s work (I was for several years his colleague at George Mason University) know that MacLean’s simplistic conclusion is preposterous. She seems not to have exerted the effort to study Buchanan’s works carefully.