Phillip W. Magness

U.S. Economic & Political History

Does the history profession have a paranoia affliction?

| October 10, 2017

Inside Higher Ed ran a very strange article today that says more about the historians involved than the details of the story. First the actual event that happened: Over the last few days, a person claiming to be a high school student sent out a mass-email to a bunch of history professors. The email asked […]

What did James M. Buchanan actually believe about segregation?

| October 1, 2017

James M. Buchanan did not write very much on the subject of racial politics. The topic did not appear in any of his major works. He also tended to steer away from day to day political issues in general, save for when they touched upon a relatively narrow set of issues in his immediate scope […]

Actually, documents prove the Virginia School condemned segregation

| September 30, 2017

In my last two posts, I highlighted substantial problems with the historical narrative and use of sources in Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, particularly as they concerned the issue of segregation in 1950s and 60s Virginia. MacLean essentially claims that economists James M. Buchanan and Warren Nutter forged something of an unholy alliance with a group […]

On the matter of letting chips fall where they may

| September 26, 2017

As my post yesterday noted, I have spent the past several days source-checking a number of key claims in Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains against the archival holdings of the University of Virginia. The latest installment takes a look at another of MacLean’s most inflammatory allegations regarding segregation, and her attempts to link it to the work […]

A Tale of Two Newspapers

| September 25, 2017

Virginius Dabney, editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch   The ongoing controversy over Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean has provided no shortage of conversation material this summer, including an unintentional commentary on the degraded state of academic standards in the history profession. When I first read this book at the beginning of the summer, I was […]

Illiberal Reviewers

| September 13, 2017

The Journal of Economic Literature (JEL), a well-regarded academic journal that covers research trends and practices in the profession, published an extremely unusual and in many ways problematic review article in its September 2017 issue. It’s behind a paywall, but if you have access to the AEA website you can view it here. The article […]

Houston flooding in historical perspective: no, zoning would not have stopped Harvey

| August 31, 2017

I grew up in Houston, and weathered numerous hurricanes and lesser storms. It’s a relatively rare but predictably recurring part of life along the gulf coast, just as earthquakes are part of life in California and blizzards are part of life in New England. As I write this, the Houston area is just beginning to […]

Buchanan and Agrarianism – a revealing passage

| July 19, 2017

In James M. Buchanan’s autobiography Better than Plowing, he offers a fascinating late-life reflection on a subject that he refers to as the country aesthetic. The discussion occurs in the 8th chapter of the book, which is about his reflections on life in old age. It’s a fascinating read and tells how Buchanan – at the […]

On Intellectual History and MacLean’s Missing Leviathan

| July 17, 2017

Today I’ll offer a quick observation on the ongoing controversy about Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains. In several recent interviews MacLean has presented her work as an “intellectual history” of James Buchanan. A few historians have come to her defense as well, taking a similar line and also suggesting that MacLean’s critics either don’t understand […]

Nancy MacLean’s segregationist sins of omission…and commission

| July 15, 2017

One of the most inflammatory charges of Nancy MacLean’s new book Democracy in Chains holds that James M. Buchanan, and by extension his department and research center at the University of Virginia, served as something of an intellectual buttress to the segregationist forces of 1950s and 1960s Virginia politics after Brown v. Board. MacLean has very little […]