Phillip W. Magness

U.S. Economic & Political History

How communism affects the inequality U-curve

| May 7, 2018

U-curves are all the rage in inequality studies. Increasingly viewed as a global phenomenon, the distribitional U-curve attempts to show changes in top income and wealth shares over the course of the last century. In other words, it tracks the holdings of the top 1%, 5%, or 10% and so forth over time. The common […]

Income inequality in the United States: it’s flatter than you probably realize

| May 1, 2018

Most economic discussions of inequality in the United States begin with a U-shaped curve. More specifically, they begin with historical estimates of top income shares (e.g. the top 10%, 5%, and 1%) as depicted in Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez’s famous 2003 paper on the subject. When these figures are displayed across the entire 20th […]

On the intellectual uselessness of a certain method of socioeconomic analysis

| March 27, 2018

A few brief observations: 1. The Labor Theory of Value is incapable of functionally explaining even basic economic relationships. See Menger 1871. 2. The notion that class identity functionally drives political or any other type of collective action is hopelessly incoherent and undermined by a pervasive free rider problem. See Olson 1965, Section IV. 3. […]

Abolitionists, Communists, and Jacobin magazine’s fake Jeff Davis quote

| March 4, 2018

One of the stranger recent currents in historical discussions around slavery involves an increasingly common attempt by scholars and activists on the far left to enlist historical abolitionists as ideological ammunition to the causes of anti-capitalism or even socialism. A primary motivating factor appears to be the so-called “New History of Capitalism” (NHC) genre of […]

The Epistemic Toxins of False Historical Claims

| February 27, 2018

Allegations of racism carry a substantial social stigma in today’s intellectual climate. Provided that the allegation is valid, this may be a desirable effect. Racism is insidiously unethical as it fundamentally devalues the targeted person. This may make it worthy of not only condemnation, but the ostracizing that often follows a racist action. Knowledge that […]

Eugenics and the Origins of the AAUP

| January 13, 2018

The history behind the founding of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) almost always begins with the case of Edward A. Ross. A prominent economist and sociologist in his day, Ross was forced to resign from his faculty position at Stanford University in November 1900 after running afoul of the political views of the […]

How John Rawls tried to put Democracy in Chains

| December 19, 2017

I’ve spent the past week at the Hoover Institution, researching the early origins of James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock’s 1962 book The Calculus of Consent. While working in the papers of W.H. Hutt, South African economist who spent 1966-67 as a visiting professor at Buchanan and Tullock’s research center at the University of Virginia, I […]

About MacLean and the matter of John C. Calhoun

| December 10, 2017

Several months ago when I first entered the discussion about Nancy MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains, I called attention to her misuse of historical evidence to write pro-slavery theorist John C. Calhoun into the intellectual lineage of economist James M. Buchanan. MacLean’s claim struck me as odd at the time, because Calhoun’s name does not appear […]

Why Universities have shifted to the political left in the past 20 years

| December 3, 2017

University faculty ranks have long been thought of as bastions of the political left, and with good reason: sizable majorities of professors self-identify as modern liberal or left-leaning in their politics. This trend dates back to the first comprehensive faculty survey on political leanings in 1969. The leftward tilt of college professors used to be […]

The Dysfunctional Incentives of Academic Peer Review

| November 21, 2017

Academic peer review is a highly dysfunctional process, replete with perverse incentives and maddeningly Kafkaesque outcomes. We chase after peer reviewed outlets nonetheless because they are also the closest thing that academia has to a vetting mechanism for research productivity, and thus promotion. This creates a number of incentives toward increasing the volume of output, including […]