Friday, May 25, 2018

James Buchanan Deserves More Attention

Here's my comment on Sam Staley's review of Nancy MacLean's book...


Personally, I'm a huge fan of James Buchanan so I'm acutely aware of the amount of attention he typically receives. Naturally I feel like he never receives nearly enough attention. Thanks to MacLean's book, however, there was a noticeable spike in articles about Buchanan. So in this sense, which is pretty important, I do appreciate her book. I think her bad critique of Buchanan is a lot better than no critique. Of course I would have preferred a much better critique of him... but beggars can't be choosers.

Also, in MacLean's defense, she was 100% correct that Buchanan's work is an attack on democracy. Unfortunately, as a historian she didn't really appreciate or address his economic arguments.

Even Michael Munger didn't get it. On Twitter he vehemently denied that Buchanan's work is an attack on democracy. I replied...

Munger did not respond. If he does happen to believe that voting is better than spending at revealing preferences then what, if anything, would falsify his belief?

Let's say that the Independent Institute used voting and donating to rank economists. If voting ranked Buchanan higher than donating did, then this would falsify my belief that spending is better than voting.


A few months ago in this forum discussion I shared this passage by Buchanan...

Individuals do not act so as to maximize utilities described in independently existing functions. They confront genuine choices, and the sequence of decisions taken may be conceptualized, ex post (after the choices), in terms of "as if" functions that are maximized. But these "as if" functions are, themselves, generated in the choosing process, not separately from such process. If viewed in this perspective, there is no means by which even the most idealized omniscient designer could duplicate the results of voluntary interchange. The potential participants do not know until they enter the process what their own choices will be. From this it follows that it is logically impossible for an omniscient designer to know, unless, of course, we are to preclude individual freedom of will. - James M. Buchanan, Order Defined in the Process of its Emergence

Here's part of the response that I received...

You're using as a defense a quote from the single worst President in American history to justify as generalizable the very quote that I picked from you as a representation of your system's generalizable failure. It is fitting that someone whose legacy is synonymous with the rabid defense of arbitrary social structures based on the conflation of holding socioeconomic power with the capacity to exercise socioeconomic power is your preferred tipple.

What would James Buchanan, the economist, have been named if his parents had used the market to rank potential names? 

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