A while back I wrote "Why haven't we heard any of these concerns? Because the freaking Left is no longer capable of making any public argument that is not based on race or gender."
A classic example of this is Nancy MacLean's new book . She has apparently detected the great conspiracy behind the modern Right, which according do her is a racist backlash against the civil rights movement. And the person at the heart of this conspiracy is... economist James Buchanan?
For those who don't know, which is probably most of the folks in this country, Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in economics for his development of public choice theory. If you are unfamiliar with this body of work, I encourage you to investigate it, but in short it analyzes government officials as self-interested and subject to all the same incentives as ordinary people. This is in contrast to highly idealized analyses that consider government agents as perfectly serving the public and judges proposed government actions by their stated goals, rather than their likely operations as run by real human beings. It was developed in part as a reaction to market critics who would cite real world issues in complex markets and compare them to idealized results of hypothetical government regulations. It tends to explain things like special interest politics, regulatory capture, cronyism, and rent-seeking much better than traditional, rosier theories of government. For example
So the Progressive Left tends to hate public choice theory. They have nearly infinite faith in government action and don't like to hear about its limitations. So it is not surprising that MacLean would write a thoughtful, scholarly critique of public choice theory, backed by a variety of economic evidence. HAH! Just kidding. This is 2017. Academics in the social sciences, mostly on the Left, don't operate that way. The only approach they know to refuting such a theory is to link it with racism. And so that is what she attempts. This is part of the summary from Amazon:
“[A] vibrant intellectual history of the radical right . . .” – The Atlantic
“This sixty-year campaign to make libertarianism mainstream and eventually take the government itself is at the heart of Democracy in Chains. . . . If you're worried about what all this means for America's future, you should be” – NPR
“Riveting” – O, The Oprah Magazine (Top 20 Books to Read This Summer)
An explosive exposé of the right’s relentless campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatize public education, and change the Constitution.
Behind today’s headlines of billionaires taking over our government is a secretive political establishment with long, deep, and troubling roots. The capitalist radical right has been working not simply to change who rules, but to fundamentally alter the rules of democratic governance. But billionaires did not launch this movement; a white intellectual in the embattled Jim Crow South did. Democracy in Chains names its true architect—the Nobel Prize-winning political economist James McGill Buchanan—and dissects the operation he and his colleagues designed over six decades to alter every branch of government to disempower the majority.
In a brilliant and engrossing narrative, Nancy MacLean shows how Buchanan forged his ideas about government in a last gasp attempt to preserve the white elite’s power in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. In response to the widening of American democracy, he developed a brilliant, if diabolical, plan to undermine the ability of the majority to use its numbers to level the playing field between the rich and powerful and the rest of us.
Corporate donors and their right-wing foundations were only too eager to support Buchanan’s work in teaching others how to divide America into “makers” and “takers.” And when a multibillionaire on a messianic mission to rewrite the social contract of the modern world, Charles Koch, discovered Buchanan, he created a vast, relentless, and multi-armed machine to carry out Buchanan’s strategy.
Hah, this is the Progressive Left, so you just knew the Kochs had to be implicated as well. A couple of thoughts
- My first response is: if only. It would be fabulous if, say, the Republican Party was constructed on top of the work of Buchanan and public choice theory. Alas, it is not
- The links to racism the books rests on are simply a joke, but typical of the quality of public discourse today. You see it all the time. Coyote gave money to the Cato Institute. Joe Racist and Jane Hatemonger also gave money to Cato. So Coyote has been "linked" to these bad people, and therefor must believe everything they do.**
- Yet another in a long line of books about how libertarians are plotting to enslave you by devolving power to the individual and leaving you alone
- has been collecting a lot of links to critiques of the book. Beyond the silly vast-right-wing-conspiracy level of scholarship, apparently MacLean edited a lot of the key quotes she uses in the book to essentially reverse their meaning.
** This is an aspect of Progressive thought today that I think is not discussed enough. I used to make common cause with folks on the Left and the Right on individual issues. This is becoming increasingly hard, particularly with the Progressive Left, because they tend to demand conformity with them on issues x, y, z before they will work with you on issue w. I had to step down from a leadership role in an effort to legalize gay marriage in AZ because I did not agree with groups like HRC on things like climate change. Progressives then assume everyone else is following this totalitarian principle, so if later I make common cause with the Right, say on school choice, I am branded as being anti-immigration. That is silly, given what I have written, but to them actual words I have written are irrelevant -- what is important is that I did one thing one time on one issue with someone on the Right, so I am now branded with whatever political baggage the Right might have.