Sunday, May 19, 2019

On The “Free Market Economists are Racist!” Industry

Gordon Tullock
By Phillip W. Magness

A few days ago I received a strange and unexpected notification in the form of a tweet. Calvin TerBeek, a political science PhD student at the University of Chicago, claimed that he had evidence showing:
“In 1967, Gordon Tullock, James Buchanan’s frequent public choice co-author, wrote a book review for National Review praising an effort at scientific racism. “
TerBeek posted an excerpt of one of his own working papers in which he repeated the charge at greater length. While I have never met him and had no idea who he was until this moment, he then called me out by name (along with GMU law professor David Bernstein) to suggest that his newly revealed claim would cause significant embarrassment to our work on the history of Buchanan, Tullock, and public choice theory – presumably because both David and I had been at the forefront of the debunking of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains.
Accusing someone of racism is an extremely serious ethical charge. Its conveyed stigma serves as an important and necessary social mechanism to discourage and combat racial discrimination. But such charges are also prone to abuse.
Many activists on the far left are keenly aware that they can socially discredit disliked ideas by branding their expositors as “racists,” including on flimsy or even false evidence. Accordingly, a cottage industry of academics and journalists has emerged in recent years who seem to revel in the tagging of free-market economists with the Scarlet R for Racism. Participants in this exercise scour the internet in search of any and every charge of this type that they can find, credulously repeating and trumpeting it as “evidence” of their own prior supposition that free-market thinkers have an unaddressed race problem that they alone are suited to render judgement upon.
And so it was with TerBeek’s claim about Gordon Tullock. The cottage industry descended on his thread and, without even the slightest scrutiny as it “confirmed” what they already believed about Tullock, began broadcasting it to the world. The New Republic’s Jeet Heerchimed in with sanctimonious hectoring:
“People can grouse all they want about Nancy McLean but the simple fact is that historians of conservatism & libertarianism have to come to terms with this stuff. And so far, they haven’t.”
So did a recurring cast of characters who almost always appear on such threads. Journalist John Ganz and University of Florida political scientist Steven M. Klein – two of the cottage industry’s regulars – jumped in to share TerBeek’s “evidence.” So did Marshall Steinbaum, a University of Utah economist who is equally famous for penning screeds that denounce public choice theory as racist and for mounting vigorous defenses of progressive era eugenicists (or supporters of “collective action to control the birth rate,” as he euphemizes it). MSU historian John Jackson, one of MacLean’s most strident defenders in the academy, arrived to offer his “expertise” on diagnosing Tullock’s alleged dalliance with racial heredity theory. And the Urban Institute’s Dan Kuehn made certain to announce his interest in TerBeek’s newly revealed “socio-political context” as it is “important” to the story of where public choice theory came from.
Within a few hours of TerBeek’s initial message, the entire cottage industry was mobilized and ready to attach the Scarlet R to Tullock.
Read the rest here.

No comments:

Post a Comment