I just finished reading Democracy in Chains by historian Nancy MacLean, a book colored, she says, by a transformation of politics in North Carolina, where she teaches at Duke University. MacLean discovered an abandoned trove of documents on school vouchers, belonging to a little known economist named James McGill Buchanan. Promoting theories he misleadingly named “public choice,” Buchanan first rose to prominence at the Univ. of Virginia, while actually working for minority rule by the wealthy. He also eventually won the “almost-Nobel prize” in Economics that I expose in my book, Screwnomics.
I write about a similar mean-spirited change in my home state of Michigan, and critique prize-winner Milton Friedman’s damage—but had no knowledge of Friedman’s friend, until MacLean’s book. That’s how Buchanan wanted it. He and his colleagues, well funded by wealthy donors like Scaife, Volker, and the Koch brothers, provided economic arguments to oppose the civil rights movement, social security, public schools, Medicare and Medicaid. Eventually he and the Kochs set up influential centers at Virginia’s George Mason University, closer to Washington D.C.
All along the way, Buchanan’s autocratic moves trumped academic freedom. MacLean doesn’t note the hyper-masculinity of their true-believer culture, but it surely was male-dominated by male dominators. Backed by big male money, Buchanan’s rationales transformed law schools and state legislatures, favoring the corporate elite, not us less powerful plebes. In their new orthodoxy, only personal responsibility of the so-called “makers” counted—and income taxes or Medicare or Social Security taxes that sensibly redistributed wealth was robbery of the rich.
Interestingly, Buchanan and his tribe knew they needed to cloak their real intents, and did so, using code to avoid extremist and racist terms. They considered women a problem. Why? Women, who’d only won the vote in 1920, and who largely remain less wealthy, were more readily open to governmental “collective action,” they said, or democracy in action.
That’s to be celebrated. We can be glad that females can now go to school, a relatively new phenomenon, and still far from universal. (The University of Virginia accepted its first black male student in 1955—but did not admit women until 1970.) Together with two other courageous women’s books, Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine and Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains pulls back the curtain on a fake money wizardry that has not only impoverished our US Treasury, but threatens to bankrupt our American ideals.
The Kochs and their billionaire network are not the first to aspire to a kingdom—but corruption like theirs never ends well. A sizeable number of American men have been so seduced by an ideology with chest-pounding Alpha baboon traits, that perhaps only American women can awaken a larger, more essential context of mutual exchanges—ones more productive, humane, and sustainable than constant male battles for dominance.