Forthcoming: James M. Buchanan and the Political Economy of Desegregation

My article, co-authored with Phil Magness and Art Carden, on James Buchanan and the political economy desegregation is now forthcoming at the Southern Economic Journal. In this article, we do two things: 1) we respond to the claims made by Nancy MacLean (Duke University) in Democracy in Chains that nobel laureate James Buchanan was a closeted racist and segregationist and show that the opposite was true; 2) we situate public choice within debates over racism and desegregation. The article can be downloaded here on SSRN and the abstract is below:

Recent historical works, most notably 2017’s Democracy in Chains, claim that 1986 Nobel Laureate James M. Buchanan’s formative contributions to political economy were inspired in significant part by hostility to Brown v. Board of Education. This argument suggests that the research agenda of public choice economics emerged from an opportunistic alliance with Virginia’s “Massive Resistance” to school integration and should thus be situated within the racially tinged tradition of southern conservatism. While Buchanan wrote very little on the economics of race, an extensive review of archival evidence as well as his published works refutes this claimed association. Buchanan’s work is better understood in the context of his Chicago school mentor Frank Knight as well as his own support for the public choice contributions of W.H. Hutt, rather than the unattested links to southern racial conservatism that are posited by MacLean. To the contrary, we show that Buchanan opposed segregation and believed that the competitive processes of an educational voucher system would undermine the Massive Resistance status quo. We accordingly reject the primary thesis of Democracy in Chains and offer a corrective account of the relationship between Buchanan and the segregation debate.


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