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Phil Magness Does History; Some “Historians” Do “History”

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:


Daniel Kuehn (Letters, Oct. 22) misses the relevant background of Phil Magness’s defense of the school-choice movement (“School Choice’s Antiracist History,” Oct. 19). Among the supporters of school choice were two of history’s most prominent economists, James Buchanan and Milton Friedman. Nobel laureates both, each man was led by his research to warn of the dangers of government intrusion into individuals’ private affairs.

Since their deaths – Buchanan in 2013 and Friedman in 2006 – a thriving mini-industry has emerged to falsely portray these scholars as aiders and abettors of oppressive oligarchs and racist hordes. Among the most aggressive of those who misrepresent the words and deeds of Buchanan and Friedman is Duke University historian Nancy MacLean. After smearing Buchanan in her fallacy-filled and thoroughly debunked 2017 book, Democracy in Chains, she recently took to the pages of the Washington Post to do the same to Friedman, who she alleges “backed the White Southern cause” and “White freedom.”

Yet the closest MacLean comes to presenting evidence for this scurrilous charge is to quote a passage from Friedman’s 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom, in which he concedes – as the principled libertarian that he was – that parents should be free to use school vouchers to send their children to segregated schools. She completely ignores the many passages in that same book in which Friedman explicitly denounced racism and segregation, and approvingly predicted that vouchers would result in less segregation. Friedman went so far there to say that, although he opposed forced integration, “[i]f one must choose between the evils of enforced segregation or enforced integration, I myself would find it impossible not to choose integration.”*

Mr. Magness deserves thanks for carefully working to rid the history of the school-choice movement of grotesque parodies and perversions of the sort peddled by Ms. MacLean.

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

* Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), page 117.

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