It is a dicey business for scholars housed at academic institutions to embark on projects to influence public opinion and practical politics. That is one of the relentless premises of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, a scurrilous attack on James M. Buchanan that is written as a screed, published with a popular press, and suffused on every page with an obvious intent to influence public opinion and practical politics.
MacLean, the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, might better have entitled the work, which is pervaded with innuendo and guilt by association, “Six Degrees of Jim Buchanan.” His constitutional focus on veto points is similar to John C. Calhoun’s; Buchanan is therefore tarred by association with Calhoun’s racial views. Buchanan came to prominence in Virginia when the state was under the thumb of the segregationist U.S. Senator Harry Byrd. Byrd’s beliefs on voter suppression are unfurled in tandem with Buchanan’s story, inviting the reader to infer a phantom link between them. Likewise the implied association of Buchanan with the full range of the Virginia journalist James J. Kilpatrick’s views.
In my last post, I discussed Justice Clarence Thomas’s criticism of the Supreme Court’s tiers of scrutiny jurisprudence. Given Thomas’s criticism of the tiers as both made up and inconsistently applied, one might wonder why the Supreme Court follows this approach. My explanation is one that relies on a public choice theory of the justices. The Supreme Court follows this approach because it enhances – perhaps maximizes – its power. One might question that the Supreme Court’s power is enhanced by the tiers of scrutiny jurisprudence. After all, the tiers seem to involve rules of a sort that would arguably limit…
With lines at airports now approaching absurd lengths, a movement is arising for employing private screeners instead of the government TSA screeners. There are such strong reasons for doing this that even Vox, hardly a friend of the private sector, argues in favor of the move.
Many people argued in favor of private screeners after 9/11, but let’s not forget that Democrats pushed through government screeners in an effort to promote unionization and additional government employees. George Bush agreed to the Democrats’ demands, and here we are.
Under the law, airports can hire private screeners, which would then be regulated by TSA. But relatively few airports use private screeners, even though those that do appear to have experienced significant benefits. There is evidence that private screeners are better at detecting bombs and that they process travelers more quickly. There are other benefits:
One of the new initiatives of government is to act against the bullying of children. As a general matter, I believe that concern about bullying is a force for good. As a child, I experienced a little bit of bullying (as do virtually all children) but saw others who were treated much worse. From my own experience and observations, I can attest to how harmful such bullying can be for a child.
One might argue that parents should be the ones who address bullying but of course parents cannot do the job entirely. They are often not aware that the bullying is occurring and my guess is that the children who are bullied often had parents who were bullied and therefore would not really know how to address it. Thus, additional protection would be helpful and government schools appear to be well positioned to intervene.
Unfortunately, government does a poor job of most things and bullying is likely to be one of them. The standard litany of public choice problems ranging from poor incentives to do a good job, poor knowledge about how to do that job, and the power of special interests and ideological extremists apply in this area no less than others. And the more jobs that government undertakes, the less likely they are to do each one of them well.
Low test schools and poor learning are just a small part of the problems with government schools. There are, of course, the problems of teachers unions and disciplining bad teachers. And most pertinently, there are the absurdities of policies such as zero tolerance. Thus, no one should be surprised if the schools do a poor job of policing against bullying.
Public choice theory, which applies to the realm of politics the rational-actor postulate of economists, rightly enjoys a high regard among advocates of liberty. From voting habits to inefficient, Kafkaesque bureaucracies, to the strength of special interest lobbies and rent-seeking behavior, public choice has shined a bright light on the need to affirm limited government and political freedom. It is politics, to use James Buchanan’s phrase, “without romance.”
When it comes to voting by citizens in a democracy, there are four essential questions, as I see it, in marrying up the “should” and the “is.”
Not much has been said yet about the fact that the man now giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money in the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders, is a self-proclaimed socialist with a picture of Eugene Debs hanging in his Senate office in Washington. Even when his socialism is discussed, for example in a recent Politico article by David Greenberg, more time is spent describing the history of American socialism and relatively little explaining how Sanders fits in.