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The problem with historical arguments from silence

Historical arguments from silence are a common feature of academic work. Originally a means of dealing with historical subjects where a weak or missing evidentiary record makes direct examination of an event impossible, arguments from silence instead draw inferences from what is not said or not recorded. For example, if a historical document neglects to …

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Did Buchanan support segregated school vouchers?

Last summer during the peak of the Democracy in Chains scandal, Georg Vanberg brought two letters to light in which James M. Buchanan shared his private thoughts on the relationship between segregation and school vouchers. Writing to his friend Arthur Seldon, Buchanan expressed his concern about “the evils of race-class-cultural segregation that an unregulated voucher scheme …

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Anti-voucher segregationism & the 1959 Virginia school crisis

Prof. Hardy Cross Dillard Several months ago I wrote a lengthy post on an intriguing historical discovery. In March 1959, Charlottesville, Virginia school board attorney John S. Battle, Jr. laid out a case that school vouchers posed an existential threat to racially segregated schooling. Battle was an outspoken segregationist and member of the Virginia political …

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Democracy in Chains and the problem of misrepresented documents

In my last post I discussed an example of how Democracy in Chains author and Duke University historian Nancy MacLean conflated a pair of historical documents written two months apart from each other to levy unfounded segregationist insinuations against economist James M. Buchanan. Despite the relative abundance of footnotes in Democracy in Chains, MacLean’s work is marred …

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

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 …

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On the intellectual uselessness of a certain method of socioeconomic analysis

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. …

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

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 …

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