Situating Southern Influences in James M. Buchanan and Modern Public Choice Economics

I rarely venture in the field of the history of economic thought. I much prefer to work on the history of economies per se. However, in the wake of the work of Nancy MacLean on James Buchanan and my own emerging work on institutional roots of inequalities between individuals and groups (I am finishing another working paper on this for Canada), I felt the need to venture in that field. Along with Phil Magness and Art Carden, I revisit the role of southern influences on James Buchanan’s ideas. The abstract of our paper can be found below and the link to the SSRN version can be found here:

Was 1986 Nobel Laureate James Buchanan an intellectual heir of South Carolina slavery apologist and political thinker John C. Calhoun? Further, was Buchanan’s worldview shaped by segregationist Nashville Agrarian poet Donald Davidson? These are claims made by historian Nancy MacLean in her 2017 Democracy in Chains; however, documentary evidence from Buchanan’s Collected Works and other sources suggests that Calhoun and Davidson were not among his influences and that, therefore, MacLean’s attempt to locate Buchanan within the segregationist tradition in Southern political thinking is not supported by the historical record.


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