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Prof. Nancy “Harold Hill” MacLean

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Early on in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man the con-artist who goes by the name Professor Harold Hill impresses the gullible folk of River City, Iowa, by drawing a connection between a pool hall owned by River City’s Mayor Shinn and “sin and corruption.”  Prof. Hill makes his case in the song “Ya Got Trouble [2]“; here are the most-relevant verses:

[Harold Hill sings:] Friend, either you’re closing your eyes
To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge
Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated
By the presence of a pool table in your community . Well, ya got trouble, my friend, right here,
I say, trouble right here in River City.
….
I say that any boob kin take
And shove a ball in a pocket.
And they call that sloth.
The first big step on the road
To the depths of deg-ra-Day–
I say, first, medicinal wine from a teaspoon,
Then beer from a bottle.
An’ the next thing ya know,
Your son is playin’ for money
In a pinch-back suit.
And list’nin to some big out-a-town Jasper
Hearin’ him tell about horse-race gamblin’.
….
Now, friends, lemme tell you what I mean. Ya got one, two, three, four, five, six pockets in a table.
Pockets that mark the diff’rence
Between a gentlemen and a bum,
With a capital “B,”
And that rhymes with “P” and that stands for pool!
….
Ya got trouble, folks, right here in River City.
Trouble with a capital “T”
And that rhymes with “P” and that stands for pool!

[Citizens now join in the singing:] Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital “T”
That rhymes with “P”
And that stands for Pool,
That stands for pool.
We’ve surely got trouble!
Right here in River City,
Right here!

[Hill:] Oh yes we got trouble, trouble, trouble!
With a “T”! Gotta rhyme it with “P”!
And that stands for Pool!!!

Plain as day!  The logic is ineluctable!  The word “trouble” starts with “T” and the word “bum” starts with “B.”  Both “T” and “B” rhyme with “P”.  “P” is the first letter of the word “pool,” so it follows, as night follows day, that a pool hall is a source of trouble that will turn your sons into bums!

It is no exaggeration to describe Nancy MacLean’s logic of linking James Buchanan and public-choice scholarship to John C. Calhoun as equally ineluctable.  Friend, open your eyes!  John C. Calhoun warned that unconstrained, simple majority rule is too frequently untrustworthy and, therefore, he pondered and proposed ways to modify majority rule so that democratic outcomes are more trustworthy.  James Buchanan and other public-choice scholars have also argued that unconstrained, simple majority rule is too frequently untrustworthy and, therefore, have pondered and proposed ways to modify majority rule so that democratic outcomes are more trustworthy!  Conclusion: Buchanan and other public-choice scholars have as “their intellectual lodestar” John C. Calhoun!  Yessiree, you betcha!

Never mind that countless others throughout history have questioned the wisdom of relying on unconstrained, simple majority rule – others such as Baruch Spinoza, David Hume, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, Henry Sumner Maine, Woodrow Wilson, H.L. Mencken, Hugo Black, Walter Lippmann…. the list is very, very long.  Indeed, on this list is nearly everyone over the age of seven who has thought for more than five minutes about democracy, with Nancy MacLean seemingly one of the rare, odd exceptions.

The reasons for this distrust of unconstrained majority rule differ from thinker to thinker, as do the specific proposals to deal with the problem.  MacLean, though ignores this reality.  I remind readers that MacLean also ignores (1) the complete absence in Jim Buchanan’s extensive writings to Calhoun, and (2) Buchanan’s repeated asservation of his intellectual debt to James Madison.  The connection MacLean draws between Buchanan and Calhoun is no more logical than is Prof. Harold Hill’s attempt to smear Mayor Shinn as a purveyor of trouble.  MacLean’s charge is completely made-up.  The history that one learns from reading MacLean’s Democracy in Chains is less reliable than is the physics one learns by watching roadrunner cartoons [3].

(I thank Encore Stage & Studio [4] – for whom my son, Thomas, volunteers – for putting on this summer a delightful production of The Music Man.)

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