Phillip W. Magness

U.S. Economic & Political History

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 […]

Buchanan’s position on vouchers and segregation: the documents MacLean missed

| October 23, 2017

A central claim of Democracy in Chains holds that James M. Buchanan and the Thomas Jefferson Center (TJC) for Political Economy provided complicit aid and assistance to the segregationist “massive resisters” of late 1950s and early 1960s Virginia. As I’ve documented, this claim is both thinly attested in evidence and contradicted by what we do know […]

Speaking of Prince Edward County and school vouchers…

| October 22, 2017

As I continue the ongoing dissection of Democracy in Chains, I’d like to turn next to a claim that’s at the heart of its narrative on school desegregation: the notorious closing of Prince Edward County, Virginia’s public school system from 1959 to 1964 as a strategy to avoid racial integration. Nancy MacLean actually claims that she first discovered James […]

The Nutter-Buchanan School Choice Paper: Evidence from the Timeline

| October 20, 2017

In my last several posts on the Virginia School of public choice economics, I’ve explored the background of a 1959 article on school choice by Warren Nutter and James M. Buchanan (hereafter referred to as N-B 1959) that’s at the center of the controversy surrounding Democracy in Chains. Today I want to take a look at the […]

Is a 2017 National Book Award finalist built upon a simple typo?

| October 17, 2017

My other posts on the National Book Award-nominated Democracy in Chains have focused upon severe problems with its author’s historical account, including the misuse and misrepresentation of archival evidence. Today I want to look at another aspect of the book – its own origin story, as told by author Nancy MacLean. The book’s publicist has made […]

Did School Vouchers threaten Segregation in 1959 Charlottesville?

| October 12, 2017

Virginia’s desegregation fight has been a central point of contention in the ongoing controversy over Democracy in Chains. Author Nancy MacLean and several of her defenders in the historian community have attempted to depict a 1959 paper on school vouchers by Warren Nutter and James M. Buchanan as the product of an unholy alliance they allegedly struck […]

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 […]