Who Were Buchanan’s Influences?

If nothing else, Democracy in Chains has sparked new research into Buchanan’s intellectual family tree. I didn’t think there were any more Pokemon to catch in “Democracy in Chains,” but I just caught a few new Omittisaurs (thanks, Daniel J. Smith, for pointing to chapter 15 of “Economics from the Outside In”).

P. 163, discussing the alleged Pinochet connection: “…James Buchanan ended his memoirs with the words “Literally, I have no regrets.'”

Literally, that’s not true of either Better Than Plowing or Economics from the Outside In (she cites the latter as it was published in 2007 and she footnotes several 2005 articles on Pinochet’s financial malfeasance). It makes Buchanan look like a callous SOB who was indifferent to Chilean suffering, so I suspect this wasn’t an innocent mistake. Compare to the actual end of Economics from the Outside In:

“Life during the several years ‘out to pasture’ has not been the rocking-chair tale of song and story. I have enjoyed the company of my dogs much less than I might have imagined. The pull of the ideas waiting to be clarified has simply been too strong to allow diversion into what seems always simple pleasures.

“The tools with which I work become increasingly outmoded and my sometimes-wobbly efforts at communicating with those whose primary emphasis seems to be on the tools rather than the ideas themselves often fall flat. But the clarification sought for is as much for me as for any others. I have never, as noted earlier, been motivated by some arrogant faith in an ability to change the world. The academy will move forward, both by evolution and by constructive (and destructive) reforms. My piddling contribution to the dialogues will be in the mix so long as books remain in print.

“What else is there?”

It’s a very different conclusion, displaying a very different attitude and giving a very different picture of Buchanan the man and Buchanan the supposed revolutionary.

How did I learn this? For a related project on Buchanan’s influences, I checked to see if she references Chapter 15 of Economics from the Outside In, titled “Influences on My Academic Life and Thought.” She doesn’t, which is a curious omission in a book ostensibly dedicated, in part, to uncovering a “deep history” which includes understanding the influences on Buchanan’s academic life and thought. Neither John C. Calhoun nor any of the “Southern Agrarians” so important to MacLean’s story are represented, and the only southerners are Buchanan’s colleagues Rutledge Vining and Gordon Tullock–Tullock only being a “southerner” due to his long career in southern universities.

Check out Phil Magness and Mike Munger on Cato’s Daily Podcast and more interesting perspectives.

For more on Buchanan and his influences, see my review of Democracy in Chains with Phil Magness, a review of Richard Wagner’s new book on Buchanan, and Situating Southern Influences in James M. Buchanan and Modern Public Choice Economics with Phil Magness and Vincent Geloso.

Product links above are Amazon affiliate links, the revenue from which I use to support all sorts of shady, Dark Money activities. I recommend you don’t buy Democracy in Chains, but if you must please buy it through my affiliate link above and add sixty cents to our “adopt a child” fund. Also, I wear the Scarlet K of affiliation with numerous organizations that receive money from the Charles Koch Foundation.

About the Author: artcarden


  1. Pingback: More MacLean Mistakes - Cafe Hayek

  2. Reply David Boaz

    It might be fair to note here that the last line of chapter 14, just before chapter 15 that you cite, is “Literally, I have no regrets.’” It’s not about Pinochet, it’s about his academic choices, and it’s not the chapter that “ended his memoirs,” but the sentence does appear.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *