Meet the Economist Behind the One Percent’s Stealth Takeover of America

By Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst, Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Nobel laureate James Buchanan is the intellectual lynchpin of the Koch-funded attack on democratic institutions, argues Duke historian Nancy MacLean

Ask people to name the key minds that have shaped America’s burst of radical right-wing attacks on working conditions, consumer rights and public services, and they will typically mention figures like free market-champion Milton Friedman, libertarian guru Ayn Rand, and laissez-faire economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.

James McGill Buchanan is a name you will rarely hear unless you’ve taken several classes in economics. And if the Tennessee-born Nobel laureate were alive today, it would suit him just fine that most well-informed journalists, liberal politicians, and even many economics students have little understanding of his work.

The reason? Duke historian Nancy MacLean contends that his philosophy is so stark that even young libertarian acolytes are only introduced to it after they have accepted the relatively sunny perspective of Ayn Rand. (Yes, you read that correctly). If Americans really knew what Buchanan thought and promoted, and how destructively his vision is manifesting under their noses, it would dawn on them how close the country is to a transformation most would not even want to imagine, much less accept.

That is a dangerous blind spot, MacLean argues in a meticulously researched book, Democracy in Chains, a finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction. While Americans grapple with Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency, we may be missing the key to changes that are taking place far beyond the level of mere politics. Once these changes are locked into place, there may be no going back.

An Unlocked Door in Virginia

MacLean’s book reads like an intellectual detective story. In 2010, she moved to North Carolina, where a Tea Party-dominated Republican Party got control of both houses of the state legislature and began pushing through a radical program to suppress voter rights, decimate public services, and slash taxes on the wealthy that shocked a state long a beacon of southern moderation. Up to this point, the figure of James Buchanan flickered in her peripheral vision, but as she began to study his work closely, the events in North Carolina and also Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker was leading assaults on collective bargaining rights, shifted her focus.

Could it be that this relatively obscure economist’s distinctive thought was being put forcefully into action in real time?

MacLean could not gain access to Buchanan’s papers to test her hypothesis until after his death in January 2013. That year, just as the government was being shut down by Ted Cruz & Co., she traveled to George Mason University in Virginia, where the economist’s papers lay willy-nilly across the offices of a building now abandoned by the Koch-funded faculty to a new, fancier center in Arlington.

MacLean was stunned. The archive of the man who had sought to stay under the radar had been left totally unsorted and unguarded. The historian plunged in, and she read through boxes and drawers full of papers that included personal correspondence between Buchanan and billionaire industrialist Charles Koch. That’s when she had an amazing realization: here was the intellectual lynchpin of a stealth revolution currently in progress.

A Theory of Property Supremacy

Buchanan, a 1940 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University who later attended the University of Chicago for graduate study, started out as a conventional public finance economist. But he grew frustrated by the way in which economic theorists ignored the political process.

Buchanan began working on a description of power that started out as a critique of how institutions functioned in the relatively liberal 1950s and ‘60s, a time when economist John Maynard Keynes’s ideas about the need for government intervention in markets to protect people from flaws so clearly demonstrated in the Great Depression held sway. Buchanan, MacLean notes, was incensed at what he saw as a move toward socialism and deeply suspicious of any form of state action that channels resources to the public. Why should the increasingly powerful federal government be able to force the wealthy to pay for goods and programs that served ordinary citizens and the poor?

In thinking about how people make political decisions and choices, Buchanan concluded that you could only understand them as individuals seeking personal advantage. In interview cited by MacLean, the economist observed that in the 1950s Americans commonly assumed that elected officials wanted to act in the public interest. Buchanan vehemently disagreed — that was a belief he wanted, as he put it, to “tear down.” His ideas developed into a theory that came to be known as “public choice.”

Buchanan’s view of human nature was distinctly dismal. Adam Smith saw human beings as self-interested and hungry for personal power and material comfort, but he also acknowledged social instincts like compassion and fairness. Buchanan, in contrast, insisted that people were primarily driven by venal self-interest. Crediting people with altruism or a desire to serve others was “romantic” fantasy: politicians and government workers were out for themselves, and so, for that matter, were teachers, doctors, and civil rights activists. They wanted to control others and wrest away their resources: “Each person seeks mastery over a world of slaves,” he wrote in his 1975 book, The Limits of Liberty.

Does that sound like your kindergarten teacher? It did to Buchanan.

The people who needed protection were property owners, and their rights could only be secured though constitutional limits to prevent the majority of voters from encroaching on them, an idea Buchanan lays out in works like Property as a Guarantor of Liberty (1993). MacLean observes that Buchanan saw society as a cutthroat realm of makers (entrepreneurs) constantly under siege by takers (everybody else) His own language was often more stark, warning the alleged “prey” of “parasites” and “predators” out to fleece them.

In 1965 the economist launched a center dedicated to his theories at the University of Virginia, which later relocated to George Mason University. MacLean describes how he trained thinkers to push back against the Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate America’s public schools and to challenge the constitutional perspectives and federal policy that enabled it. She notes that he took care to use economic and political precepts, rather than overtly racial arguments, to make his case, which nonetheless gave cover to racists who knew that spelling out their prejudices would alienate the country.

All the while, a ghost hovered in the background — that of John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, senator and seventh vice president of the United States.

Calhoun was an intellectual and political powerhouse in the South from the 1820s until his death in 1850, expending his formidable energy to defend slavery. Calhoun, called the “Marx of the Master Class” by historian Richard Hofstadter, saw himself and his fellow southern oligarchs as victims of the majority. Therefore, as MacLean explains, he sought to create “constitutional gadgets” to constrict the operations of government.

Economists Tyler Cowen and Alexander Tabarrok, both of George Mason University, have noted the two men’s affinities, heralding Calhoun “a precursor of modern public choice theory” who “anticipates” Buchanan’s thinking. MacLean observes that both focused on how democracy constrains property owners and aimed for ways to restrict the latitude of voters. She argues out that unlike even the most property-friendly founders Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, Buchanan wanted a private governing elite of corporate power that was wholly released from public accountability.

Suppressing voting, changing legislative processes so that a normal majority could no longer prevail, sowing public distrust of government institutions— all these were tactics toward the goal. But the Holy Grail was the Constitution: alter it and you could increase and secure the power of the wealthy in a way that no politician could ever challenge.

Gravy Train to Oligarchy

MacLean explains that Virginia’s white elite and the pro-corporate president of the University of Virginia, Colgate Darden, who had married into the DuPont family, found Buchanan’s ideas to be spot on. In nurturing a new intelligentsia to commit to his values, Buchanan stated that he needed a “gravy train,” and with backers like Charles Koch and conservative foundations like the Scaife Family Charitable Trusts, others hopped aboard. Money, Buchanan knew, can be a persuasive tool in academia. His circle of influence began to widen.

MacLean observes that the Virginia school, as Buchanan’s brand of economic and political thinking is known, is a kind of cousin to the better-known, market-oriented Chicago and Austrian schools — proponents of all three were members of the Mont Pelerin Society, an international neoliberal organization which included Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. But the Virginia school’s focus and career missions were distinct. In an interview with the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), MacLean described Friedman and Buchanan as yin and yang:

“Friedman was this genial, personable character who loved to be in the limelight and made a sunny case for the free market and the freedom to choose and so forth. Buchanan was the dark side of this: he thought, ok, fine, they can make a case for the free market, but everybody knows that free markets have externalities and other problems. So he wanted to keep people from believing that government could be the alternative to those problems.”

The Virginia school also differs from other economic schools in a marked reliance on abstract theory rather than mathematics or empirical evidence. That a Nobel Prize was awarded in 1986 to an economist who so determinedly bucked the academic trends of his day was nothing short of stunning, MacLean observes. But, then, it was the peak of the Reagan era, an administration several Buchanan students joined.

Buchanan’s school focused on public choice theory, later adding constitutional economics and the new field of law and economics to its core research and advocacy. The economist saw that his vision would never come to fruition by focusing on who rules. It was much better to focus on the rules themselves, and that required a “constitutional revolution.”

MacLean describes how the economist developed a grand project to train operatives to staff institutions funded by like-minded tycoons, most significantly Charles Koch, who became interested in his work in the ‘70s and sought the economist’s input in promoting “Austrian economics” in the U.S. and in advising the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Koch, whose mission was to save capitalists like himself from democracy, found the ultimate theoretical tool in the work of the southern economist. The historian writes that Koch preferred Buchanan to Milton Friedman and his “Chicago boys” because, she says, quoting a libertarian insider, they wanted “to make government work more efficiently when the true libertarian should be tearing it out at the root.”

With Koch’s money and enthusiasm, Buchanan’s academic school evolved into something much bigger. By the 1990s, Koch realized that Buchanan’s ideas — transmitted through stealth and deliberate deception, as MacLean amply documents — could help take government down through incremental assaults that the media would hardly notice. The tycoon knew that the project was extremely radical, even a “revolution” in governance, but he talked like a conservative to make his plans sound more palatable.

MacLean details how partnered with Koch, Buchanan’s outpost at George Mason University was able to connect libertarian economists with right-wing political actors and supporters of corporations like Shell Oil, Exxon, Ford, IBM, Chase Manhattan Bank, and General Motors. Together they could push economic ideas to public through media, promote new curricula for economics education, and court politicians in nearby Washington, D.C.

At the 1997 fiftieth anniversary of the Mont Pelerin Society, MacLean recounts that Buchanan and his associate Henry Manne, a founding theorist of libertarian economic approaches to law, focused on such affronts to capitalists as environmentalism and public health and welfare, expressing eagerness to dismantle Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare as well as kill public education because it tended to foster community values. Feminism had to go, too: the scholars considered it a socialist project.

The Oligarchic Revolution Unfolds

Buchanan’s ideas began to have huge impact, especially in America and in Britain. In his home country, the economist was deeply involved efforts to cut taxes on the wealthy in 1970s and 1980s and he advised proponents of Reagan Revolution in their quest to unleash markets and posit government as the “problem” rather than the “solution.” The Koch-funded Virginia school coached scholars, lawyers, politicians, and business people to apply stark right-wing perspectives on everything from deficits to taxes to school privatization. In Britain, Buchanan’s work helped to inspire the public sector reforms of Margaret Thatcher and her political progeny.

To put the success into perspective, MacLean points to the fact that Henry Manne, whom Buchanan was instrumental in hiring, created legal programs for law professors and federal judges which could boast that by 1990 two of every five sitting federal judges had participated. “40 percent of the U.S. federal judiciary,” writes MacLean, “had been treated to a Koch-backed curriculum.”

MacLean illustrates that in South America, Buchanan was able to first truly set his ideas in motion by helping a bare-knuckles dictatorship ensure the permanence of much of the radical transformation it inflicted on a country that had been a beacon of social progress. The historian emphasizes that Buchanan’s role in the disastrous Pinochet government of Chile has been underestimated partly because unlike Milton Friedman, who advertised his activities, Buchanan had the shrewdness to keep his involvement quiet. With his guidance, the military junta deployed public choice economics in the creation of a new constitution, which required balanced budgets and thereby prevented the government from spending to meet public needs. Supermajorities would be required for any changes of substance, leaving the public little recourse to challenge programs like the privatization of social security.

The dictator’s human rights abuses and pillage of the country’s resources did not seem to bother Buchanan, MacLean argues, so long as the wealthy got their way. “Despotism may be the only organizational alternative to the political structure that we observe,” the economist had written in The Limits of Liberty. If you have been wondering about the end result of the Virginia school philosophy, well, the economist helpfully spelled it out.

A World of Slaves

Most Americans haven’t seen what’s coming.

MacLean notes that when the Kochs’ control of the GOP kicked into high gear after the financial crisis of 2007-08, many were so stunned by the “shock-and-awe” tactics of shutting down government, destroying labor unions, and rolling back services that meet citizens’ basic necessities that few realized that many leading the charge had been trained in economics at Virginia institutions, especially George Mason University. Wasn’t it just a new, particularly vicious wave of partisan politics?

It wasn’t. MacLean convincingly illustrates that it was something far more disturbing.

MacLean is not the only scholar to sound the alarm that the country is experiencing a hostile takeover that is well on its way to radically, and perhaps permanently, altering the society. Peter Temin, former head of the MIT economics department, INET grantee, and author of The Vanishing Middle Class, as well as economist Gordon Lafer of the University of Oregon and author of The One Percent Solution, have provided eye-opening analyses of where America is headed and why. MacLean adds another dimension to this dystopian big picture, acquainting us with what has been overlooked in the capitalist right wing’s playbook.

She observes, for example, that many liberals have missed the point of strategies like privatization. Efforts to “reform” public education and Social Security are not just about a preference for the private sector over the public sector, she argues. You can wrap your head around, even if you don’t agree. Instead, MacLean contents, the goal of these strategies is to radically alter power relations, weakening pro-public forces and enhancing the lobbying power and commitment of the corporations that take over public services and resources, thus advancing the plans to dismantle democracy and make way for a return to oligarchy. The majority will be held captive so that the wealthy can finally be free to do as they please, no matter how destructive.

MacLean argues that despite the rhetoric of Virginia school acolytes, shrinking big government is not really the point. The oligarchs require a government with tremendous new powers so that they can bypass the will of the people. This, as MacLean points out, requires greatly expanding police powers “to control the resultant popular anger.” The spreading use of pre-emption by GOP-controlled state legislatures to suppress local progressive victories such as living wage ordinances is another example of the right’s aggressive use of state power.

Could these right-wing capitalists allow private companies to fill prisons with helpless citizens—or, more profitable still, right-less undocumented immigrants? They could, and have. Might they engineer a retirement crisis by moving Americans to inadequate 401(k)s? Done. Take away the rights of consumers and workers to bring grievances to court by making them sign forced arbitration agreements? Check. Gut public education to the point where ordinary people have such bleak prospects that they have no energy to fight back? Getting it done.

Would they even refuse children clean water? Actually, yes.

MacLean notes that in Flint, Michigan, Americans got a taste of what the emerging oligarchy will look like — it tastes like poisoned water. There, the Koch-funded Mackinac Center pushed for legislation that would allow the governor to take control of communities facing emergency and put unelected managers in charge. In Flint, one such manager switched the city’s water supply to a polluted river, but the Mackinac Center’s lobbyists ensured that the law was fortified by protections against lawsuits that poisoned inhabitants might bring. Tens of thousands of children were exposed to lead, a substance known to cause serious health problems including brain damage.

Tyler Cowen has provided an economic justification for this kind of brutality, stating that where it is difficult to get clean water, private companies should take over and make people pay for it. “This includes giving them the right to cut off people who don’t—or can’t—pay their bills,” the economist explains.

To many this sounds grotesquely inhumane, but it is a way of thinking that has deep roots in America. In Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative (2005), Buchanan considers the charge of heartlessness made against the kind of classic liberal that he took himself to be. MacLean interprets his discussion to mean that people who “failed to foresee and save money for their future needs” are to be treated, as Buchanan put it, “as subordinate members of the species, akin to…animals who are dependent.’”

Do you have your education, health care, and retirement personally funded against all possible exigencies? Then that means you.

Buchanan was not a dystopian novelist. He was a Nobel Laureate whose sinister logic exerts vast influence over America’s trajectory. It is no wonder that Cowen, on his popular blog Marginal Revolution, does not mention Buchanan on a list of underrated influential libertarian thinkers, though elsewhere on the blog, he expresses admiration for several of Buchanan’s contributions and acknowledges that the southern economist “thought more consistently in terms of ‘rules of the games’ than perhaps any other economist.”

The rules of the game are now clear.

Research like MacLean’s provides hope that toxic ideas like Buchanan’s may finally begin to face public scrutiny. Yet at this very moment, the Kochs’ State Policy Network and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that connects corporate agents to conservative lawmakers to produce legislation, are involved in projects that the Trump-obsessed media hardly notices, like pumping money into state judicial races. Their aim is to stack the legal deck against Americans in ways that MacLean argues may have even bigger effects than Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling which unleashed unlimited corporate spending on American politics. The goal is to create a judiciary that will interpret the Constitution in favor of corporations and the wealthy in ways that Buchanan would have heartily approved.

“The United States is now at one of those historic forks in the road whose outcome will prove as fateful as those of the 1860s, the 1930s, and the 1960s,” writes MacLean. “To value liberty for the wealthy minority above all else and enshrine it in the nation’s governing rules, as Calhoun and Buchanan both called for and the Koch network is achieving, play by play, is to consent to an oligarchy in all but the outer husk of representative form.”

Nobody can say we weren’t warned.

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    1. YankeeFrank

      Unhinged radio freak === meticulously researched work based on primary sources written by a Duke University professor of history.

  1. paul

    Familyblog me,
    This article brings to mind ‘the devil rides out’, as crazy and chilling, but without the happy ending

    1. DonCoyote

      “If you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor movement — the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery, the wage slaves, expect salvation — if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there, and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out.” –August Spies, who was hanged as part of the Haymarket Eight fighting (successfully) for the eight-hour day

      “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.” –Thomas Jefferson

      So I am long pitchforks, AR-15s, and ammo.

    1. Darius

      All the responses are about the right to bear arms. Madison knew you can’t enforce slavery without a well-armed, well-regulated militia.

      1. JBird

        True, but all the rights in the Bill of Rights was meant to protect the people from the government; having a large standing army was a terrifying idea to the Founders as it could be used to control the population by a tyrannical government.

        West Point was created to create a core of trained officers, especially in artillery and engineering, for an army to be formed around only if the “well-armed, well-regulated militia” failed as well as leading that militia in the first place.

        For example, the American Civil War was largely fought by volunteers often led by officers trained at West Point. Also, the hope was that the militia could at least counterbalance any standing armed forces, rather like the checks and balances that are in the Constitution. It has only been since the Korean War that a permanently very large military, especially the army has been countenanced, more accurately now, enthusiastically created, supported, and used by the elites’ “military-industrial-congressional-complex.”

        1. ape

          If only some of the “Founders” hadn’t been directly involved in putting down the Shays rebellion and the Whiskey rebellion — and in fact, the US Constitution wasn’t a direct response to the threat of uprisings by veterans of the revolution, then I could believe you.

  2. Eustache De Saint Pierre

    Adam Curtis featured Buchanan in his three part series ” The Trap ” & if my memory serves me right in the episode titled ” F**k You Buddy “. Interviewed by Curtis he struck me as a particularly miserable version of a human being who like Rand built his theory on the belief that all our actions are based on selfishness. When asked on his thoughts about empathy, fellow feeling & the like, he replied dismissively that he didn’t know anything about that, which was likely not at all surprising.

    It is available on youtube :

    1. a different chris

      >Buchanan, in contrast, insisted that people were

      As you say, the way a person describes other people is pretty much a perfect description of themselves.

    2. Carolinian

      Thanks for link.

      Of course Buchanan is all nonsense just like pulp novelist Rand and my home boy John C.Calhoun. But some of us would contend that liberals give these crackpots an opening by insisting on an opposite view–that humans are essentially altruistic and that selfish billionaires are the outliers. In fact we are both selfish and social and the latter is the reason we currently rule (and possibly ruin) the Earth instead of swinging in trees like our simian ancestors. Even the Romans who were not exactly humanitarians understood this with their bundles of fasces. Society is what makes us strong with self-aggrandizement the fuel in the engine room–a fire that must be carefully banked.

      1. Bobby Gladd

        “Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but it is not merely so.” – Sam Harris

        Tomasello utterly refutes Buchanan et al, btw. See “A Natural History of Human Morality.”

    3. EoH

      Scrooge without the ghosts of Christmas. His chains would be long and heavy, he should be carrying them still.

    4. djrichard

      I liked Adam Curtis’s HyperNormalization (which was recommended on NC) very much, so look forward to watching “The Trap”. Thanks for the bringing this to attention.

      1. SubjectivObject

        I found HyperNormalization more work than necessary to listen to .
        Curtis should produce a version without the mood manipulating sound track.
        I would rather my attention be given to thinking about what is said and the relevance of the imagery rather than forcefully diverting from arbitrary evoked unconscious feelings that seem characteristic of BBC production.
        To the extent I consider that the soundtrack was fully intentional, it removes credibility for the primary work as something other than artful propaganda.

    5. paul

      Curtis’ stuff is always easter eggs for the adept.

      Curtis offers an engagement ring by feeding it to your favourite pet.

      When you’ve fished out of the shit, he’ll you that’s how he wanted to find it.

      The’ power of nightmares’ was a glamourised fictionalisation of the huntingtonian fiction of the’ clash of cultures’

      The trap would have made a decent 1 hour documentary, stretching it to 3 certainly broke my attention.

      Bitter lake was wrung mercileesly around it’s title

      Hypernormalism sounds like something I already knew, and did not need the plummy voice of curtis to tell me to consign it to ‘stuff that has been covered’

      1. paul

        Huntingdon’s clash of the civilisations was what I meant.
        It was all about an arab cleric and a minor academic.
        Give me a familyblogging break, just for once Adam?

  3. Darius

    There’s no bipartisan compromise with the Koch brothers. There’s only beating them utterly or being consumed by them. The US has more billionaires than anywhere else. What a tremendous financial resource lying at our feet. Huge fortunes should be appropriated for public use. They can keep hundreds of millions and they’ll still be filthy, obscenely rich.

    1. aliteralmind

      The Koch brothers should be taxed because that level of inequality is immoral. We don’t need their money so it can “appropriated for public use.”

      Economist L. Randall Wray: “Taxes are not needed to “pay for” government spending.”

      Economist Bill Mitchell: “Taxpayers do not fund anything.”

      The fiction of dangerous deficit spending rests upon the false assertion that federal income taxes are used to pay for U.S. government spending.”

      A seminal paper by economics professor Stephanie Kelton (née Bell) from 20 years ago.

      “After carefully considering the complexities of reserve accounting, it is argued that the proceeds from taxation and bond sales are technically incapable of financing government spending and that modern governments actually finance all of their spending through the direct creation of high-powered money.”

      1. makedoanmend

        Good point.

        By using their loot to buy political favours and undermine democracy at every level, they can accumulate more loot and more power.

        If we poor people are too polite to request a fair share of the profit of our labour, then the only way to curb the budding oligarchs is to tax away their ability to engage in pernicious behaviour.

        While we still can.


        On another note, thanks to Jerry and NC for posting the article. It is sober reading.

        Increasingly, it seems democracy (including the workplace) is our only defense against our conflicted, collective human nature. It’s messy, but maybe that is a hidden bonus since it requires its practitioners to learn, engage and compromise.

        If these people described in the article are attacking education, then self education becomes both an act of defiance and subversion.

      2. The Heretic

        We should tax… to keep elite economic power in check… also as acknowledgement that their wealth is based on a stable and healthy economy and body politic, which is an function of a government promoting a healthy society for the 99%.

        Many of our 1 % elites and their lieutenants in the 5%, would he much less rich (or dead) if they started out in a dysfunctional country, like say the Congo, Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.

  4. The Rev Kev

    There is one thing that I will credit James McGill Buchanan for and that is working out that you can have a wealthy, lifetime career simply by telling billionaires what they want to hear. Reading about his works, that is all he really ever did. Lots of people that started life believing in Trotsky evolved into what we call neocons. Buchanan was one of those socialist that evolved into a rabid Ayn Rand free-marketist.
    He came out with a book back in ’75 called “The Limits of Liberty” and I will bet you anything that that book was basically his resume application. And it worked as his career took off soon afterwards. In the end, after he worked for them for decades, they wiped him like a dirty rag. How do I know that? Because historian Nancy MacLean found all his lifetimes work abandoned and left discarded without any attempt at securing them from scrutiny.

    1. sgt_doom

      Insightful comments!

      Although I agree with Prof. MacLean’s opinions on the Koch brothers, I’m afraid I found her writing to be extremely bipolar and tunnel-vision focused, a little too much in love with the Clintons and willing to ignore their culpability as well (such as Bill Clinton’s backing by Peter G. Peterson (Blackstone Group / Rockefeller family), etc., etc.

      Prof. MacLean also places far too much emphasis on the Mount Pelerin Society, not in the same league with the Bretton Woods Committee ( and the Group of Thirty (

      If Jimmy Carter had not overturned the federal anti-usury regulations, none of this would have been possible, so we had best not ignore the actions of Presidents Carter, Clinton et al., along with Reagan and the Bushes.

      MacLean erroneously believes that members of the “liberal establishment” founded the Trilateral Commission — nothing liberal about David Rockefeller, Brzezinski and McGeorge Bundy, regardless of what the prof believes!

      George Gilder of trickle-down economics fame, was very popular with the Reagan Administration, yet none of those fake newsies could ever be bothered to mention that Gilder was the adopted son of David Rockefeller, a very cogent point!

    2. Raulb

      There have always been those who suck up to the rich and famous. This is a bit more sinister than that.

      It seeks to destroy the basic human guilt and concern for others, a sense of community and common purpose and in its place construct a binary narrative of ‘makers’ and ‘takers’. The disadvantaged are not to be looked upon with empathy or a desire for a better society for all, but as ‘losers’.

      This is narcissism and ultimate glorification of the individual (and domination) and their achievements as the purpose of society with others merely spectators to enable these supermen and women to make their mark.

      Unfortunately we are not cheetah’s, we are a social species, our entire existence and meaning resolves around social dynamics, and it’s as useful as Friedman, Buchanan and gang telling elephants they must stop caring for the herd and go it alone.

      This kind of anti-human ideology can only have emerged from America’s unique history. The kind of society envisaged with all the anti-government and anti democratic rhetoric only works in a settler community that has occupied land and can distribute it to new comers and where any kind of government would be taking away rights.

  5. cnchal

    . . . Buchanan, in contrast, insisted that people were primarily driven by venal self-interest. . .

    Buchanan was driven by his own venal interests, so he was going with what he knows.

    . . . In nurturing a new intelligentsia to commit to his values, Buchanan stated that he needed a “gravy train,”

    . . .The Koch-funded Virginia school coached scholars, lawyers, politicians, and business people to apply stark right-wing perspectives on everything from deficits to taxes to school privatization . . .

    . . . To put the success into perspective, MacLean points to the fact that Henry Manne, whom Buchanan was instrumental in hiring, created legal programs for law professors and federal judges which could boast that by 1990 two of every five sitting federal judges had participated. “40 percent of the U.S. federal judiciary,” writes MacLean, “had been treated to a Koch-backed curriculum.”

    Venal definition: : capable of being bought or obtained for money or other valuable consideration : purchasable; especially : open to corrupt influence and especially bribery : mercenary

    Are all those scholars, lawyers, politicians, business people, law professors, judges, economists and anybody else that has obtained a Koch funded education, societies most intelligent people in charge of complexity, or venal?

    1. jsn

      Yes, you can usually tell someones motives by what they accuse you or everyone else of.

      Unfortunately, with a few exceptions of which and about which I wish I knew more, war has historically been the check on the venal abuse of state apparatus: existential conflict between societies rewards those societies with the greatest cooperation as coercive societies must bear the costs of coercion even in war.

      This is also why Republics with universal conscription tend to stay Republics while those without tend to degrade into oligarchy.

      Humans, distinct among animals, have two systems of power hierarchy, one is the predatory norm of prestige accrual to violence, the other however is uniquely human: prestige accrual to wisdom/reason. The tweet tempo of contemporary politics mitigates heavily against the latter, but at the same time our “sacrifice zones”(areas excluded from the economic system) have become hotbeds of political thought and, increasingly revolt, teachers in particular lately. It looks to me change is taking root in our “muffled”(subjects excluded from MSM) “sacrifice zones”.

      1. Amfortas the Hippie

        those who yell the loudest that there is no free lunch, are usually the ones who feel most entitled to a free lunch.
        a million years ago I worked for EZGo, doing warranty work on golf courses from Lousyanna to Brownsville, Texas.
        At the community golf courses, folks were appreciative. At the wealthy enclaves, when I’d venture into the clubhouse to call for parts, I witnessed Venal and avaricious and the epitome of “entitled”:
        “self made men” in baby aspirin shorts, drunk on 100 year old scotch at 9am, grabbing the waitresses’ ass while lambasting all the poors and their grasping little hands.At just about every one of those rich courses, we would be forever dodging high speed golf balls, shot deliberately.(think about the mindset of such a person)
        This was late 80’s but I doubt that this subspecies has changed all that much.
        should be easy pickings, come the revolution…all soft and well marbled…

        1. jsn

          Civilization is the original free lunch, but to keep it, we have to remain civil. Not so easy anymore.

        2. jonboinAR

          No, they won’t be such easy pickings, as you and many others who say such things seem to think. For every French Revolution there are hundreds of accounts of risings by us peasants that have failed. They usually end up with hundreds or thousands of peasants impaled on stakes, and stuff like that. The aristocrats tend to have their you-know-what together in certain ways, while the peasants generally don’t. Hence where we find ourselves presently. Those relative levels of organization play themselves out in all the many risings which don’t manage to earn the title “Revolution”. Successfully rolling back the recent predatory advances of the wealthy will take a lot of concerted, well-organized effort expended over a good deal of time, most likely. That kind of effort in the opposite direction is how we have reached the current state of affairs. I, for one, don’t have much of a clue how to get started on that. Reading stuff on this blog is one very basic beginning block, I think. I have to bow very deeply to those who provide it. But, what to do next?

          1. kev4321

            I suggest you try thinking of government as a collection of distinct powers such as police, war, regulatory, money, judicial, tax, etc. Then determine which group or elites actually control each of those powers. Then figure out how the public could control those powers. Try to be specific.

            I think there is a consistent strategy of gaining control of institutions, such as political parties, that have their hands on the levers of power.

    2. Carla

      I first saw the light with the expose of Columbia School of Business Dean Glenn Hubbard in the Oscar-winning “Inside Job.”

      But “Democracy in Chains” is a must-read that so far, I’ve only been able to convince one other person to delve into. I repeatedly offer to lend my copy to friends and acquaintances; none of them want their peace disturbed.

      Thanks to Lynn Parramore for this excellent piece, and as always, to NC for posting.

      1. jonboinAR

        I’m fixing to read it, Carla. Can you, again, give me the name of the website from which I can aquire it without having to go to Borg-azon? Thanks, Carla!!

    3. EoH

      Buchanan needed a gravy train. Everyone else can carry their own water. So much for the lack of community among the 1%.

      1. anon y'mouse

        Gravy trains and free lunches are always considered beneficially generative to the rich, and inducing debauched indolence in the poor.

        Odd how independent variables can cause such divergent outcomes, isn’t it?

  6. michael hudson

    Surprising as it may seem, Henry George’s followers have embraced Buchanan as they moved to the right wing of the political spectrum. One of his protege’s, Nik Tideman (on Nixon’s Council of Economic Advisors) became president of the Robert Schalkenbach foundation and spearheaded its Chicago School privatization push. All that was needed, they claimed, was a land tax.

    1. Carla

      My dear, departed mother would be so horrified. She was a fervent supporter of Henry George, as were her mother and her maternal grandfather.

  7. TG

    Minor point: this person is NOT a Nobel Laureate. That’s because there is no Nobel prize in economics! It’s a fake, given by the rich to their favorite intellectual whores as a reward for their service and to put lipstick on the pig.

    We should never passively accept that any of these bought-and-paid-for economists have a won a Nobel prize, because they haven’t.

    1. berit

      Not a minor point, I think. The prize was instituted by Sveriges Riksbank, ie The Swedish Central Bank, when celebrating the bank’s 300 years jubilee in 1969, in commemoration of Adolf Nobel the smart bank-promoters said. Its the bank’s prize and should not be called a Nobel prize, as several Nobel-family members have complained and protested, so far to no avail. But who knows what may happen after the next secretly staged manipulation and “unforeseen” financial crash enriching bankers & co, robbing us and the public purse.

      1. berit

        OBS. Sorry. Alfred Nobel, not the other name long out of use. Recordsetting heatwave here in southern Norway, Temperatures +30C, spring month of May! Several “tropical” nights, ie not below +20C. Affects thinking and spelling – I think. Woods dry as tinder, though still green. Need rain. Hope for rain. Would dance too but for the heat, and neighbours might think I’m crazy and call lensmannen, an odd term now the police here is a woman.

      1. sgt_doom

        Krugman? Who doesn’t understand the fractional banking system?

        Who doesn’t understand stock speculation and wash trading?

        Krugman, who was once with the Reagan Administration?

        Krugman, long-time member of the Group of Thirty ( the lobbyist group for the central bankers?

        Yup, anyone idolizing Krugman would best study up on economics and finance. . . .

  8. rob adams

    Odd that nobody in the thread has mentioned feudalism as the logical consequence of oligarchical property-based rule.

    1. ambrit

      With this readership, expect more. I would consider the oligarchy feudalism connection to be a given with them.
      The modern oligarchy project aims to go feudalism one better. In feudalism, the ‘infeudation’ ceremony explicitly lays out a permanent and reciprocal relationship of support between the Lord and the underling. The Neo-Dispensation tries to do away with the Lords’ responsibilities, and leaves the entirety of the burden of support on the backs of the underclass. So, this reads much more like a society as dreamed of by someone like De Sade, rather than any Traditionalist.
      My usual snark aside, I really do see this movement as destined for bloodshed. Maybe these ‘Ubermenschen’ aim to bring on the Jackpot. They should be very careful. Eventually, the originators of many despotisms fall prey to their own creations.
      The Mont Pelerin Monster holds the seeds of its’ own destruction.

      1. Wukchumni

        I reckon the homeless population to be around 1% of all peeps in these United States, with room to grow.

        What happens when it’s 5%, 10%?

          1. jonboinAR

            No, that’s just it. There is plenty of bread as well as circuses. There is NFL, XBox. There is Walmart, Applebees, MacDonalds. With my service-man job I have to enter hundreds of houses. I have been in a sad, nasty trailer-house, the denizens of which had an enormous flat-screen through which they were playing video games. Looking at them, they were clearly not eating right, but NOT starving.

      2. Carolinian

        That was the theory. The reality was that when the peasants weren’t feeding the lord and his hangers on they were paying taxes to ransom the fool out of whatever latest scrape he had fallen into with his fellow strongmen. High ranking armored knights were too valuable to kill in battle since they could be sold back for large sums if captured.

        And as everyone knows the bogosity of the libertarians lies in the reality of what they would implement more than the theory. They want socialism for the rich and feudalism for the poor. One reason the Kochs are so interested in the workings of government is because of their sweetheart extraction deals on federal land.

        Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the above article is the sad deterioration of the country’s intellectual life. We have a former Fed “maestro” who got all his ideas from Ayn Rand and respectable major universities that peddle obvious sophistry that only serves to rationalize oligarchy.

    2. Doug Hillman

      That was waaay back when we believed in the “divine right of kings”. Today, only a backwater remnant of primitive cultures, like the UK, still retain what we civilized colonists no longer abide. We’ve evolved to the divine right of cannibalists

  9. Steve

    Great! Now I will be even more dismal than normal today. We had a chance to begin stopping this wave of hate in 2008 but the opportunity was taken from us by the most successful Republican in my lifetime, Obama.

    1. DorothyT

      re: Steve’s comment

      Agree with statement about Obama being “the most successful Republican in my lifetime.”

      As an armchair strategist I’d say, if there were Democrats that haven’t already been co-opted into the Buchanan-Koch ideology, they should mount a national public ‘education’ campaign exposing the Kochs and all the politicians they have already bought or are supporting today.

      Here’s what voters who aren’t at the top of the wealth chain need to know:

      “MacLean recounts that Buchanan and his associate Henry Manne, a founding theorist of libertarian economic approaches to law, focused on such affronts to capitalists as environmentalism and public health and welfare, expressing eagerness to dismantle Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare as well as kill public education because it tended to foster community values. Feminism had to go, too: the scholars considered it a socialist project”

      1. Amfortas the Hippie

        My wife is a teacher, so I have more than usual access to textbooks…that is, in addition to those my own boys bring home(I also suffer from the terminal curiosity that compels me to investigate such things).
        I was surprised, at first, to learn that “Social Contract” is not mentioned at all,K-12.
        I distinctly remember it’s presence in my own American History books, 35-45 years ago.
        Of course, the Progressive Movement is also barely there, as is the New Deal…just hurriedly glossed over on the way to WW2…but they are at least mentioned.
        I remember reading in a school history book, circa 8th grade, about the Pullman Strike, and Haymarket, and various Labor uprisings.
        Those are down the memory hole, now, too.
        Aside from a wholesale takeover of the Demparty, and then the machinery of governance, the only counter to this shameless forgetting is to supplement at home.
        I have very little hope for the future.
        Long Pork for Everybody!

        1. Big Tap

          Same here. When to a catholic parochial school in the 1960’s. When American History was taught Unions were never mentioned except on one occasion, the Haymarket Square Riot. Emphasis on the word ‘riot’ you know Union and anarchist murders that they were. Koch Brothers history style ahead of it’s time. I loved history than and still do. I’ve been filling in the gaps of my lack of knowledge of what really went on from high school to the present.

    2. YankeeFrank

      Don’t be too dismal: these guys can’t win for long. There is nothing inspiring about their ideas and the tide is already turning.

      1. sgt_doom

        Sadly, I am not as optimistic as you — possibly because I am aware that the patriarch of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was once a trustee of MIT, around the time he influenced them to appoint a dood named Noam Chomsky, former buddy of Henry Kissinger.

  10. KYrocky

    And this is why economics is not a science. In my layman’s view the field of economics has been, for decades, a corrupt tool serving the moneyed elite. I was not familiar with the depth of Buchanan’s beliefs, or his legions of followers in the profession, but what is outlined above is pretty damning of those economists purveying his line of beliefs for their own personal financial reward. Shame on the profession for ignoring the actual treachery behind these beliefs, and shame on those in the profession who won’t call them out.

    But The Koch’s mission has been in plain sight for decades as they have taken over, essentially, drafting every major piece of legislation offered by Republicans. In a better world, exposing the beliefs and motives of this disgusting man and the oligarchs in waiting who supported him would give Conservatives pause about their philosophical underpinnings. But I fear we are beyond that possibility.

    These economists and the Republican Party are obviously wholly dedicated to these philosophies and principles and goals espoused by Buchanan. In this regard, the Republican Party is not merely a venal organization, but like Buchanan it must disguise its real goals, its true agenda, from outside scrutiny. In this respect, its operating model is closest to organized crime, not a political Party that is reflecting its members interests. To the contrary, all of those counting on the Republican Party to help the little man have already been conned.

    The greatest threat to American democracy is not the terrorists, it is the Republican Party. It is the true Conservative agenda as envisioned by Buchanan and being pursued by the Kochs and others in secrecy when judged by their words, yet in the open when judged by their actions.

      1. sgt_doom

        And it tells us the current state of America when intelligent types such as yourself have to continuously point out this most important of factoids!

      2. FluffytheObeseCat

        Actually Democrats get nothing from the Koch brothers, their fellow travelers in the billionaire class, or ALEC and the like. They are funded by a different suite of billionaires, who have different pet issues.

        The point that they both feed at troughs — like tame barnyard animals — is accurate; the notion that they feed a the exact same trough is not.

        1. precariat

          The differences between the Democrats and Republicans is superficial. Its a political market with buyers, so there’s “choice” for the bribing rich, but the market exists to restrain and limit options that challenge power and money interests. Like all markets these days, it’s rigged.

          The Republicans are comfortable with this, the Democrats lie and obfuscate about it.

          1. Schmoe

            I am so sick of the “Democrats and Republicans are the same” schtick. Do you think we would have had massive tax cuts for the wealthy and be staring down the barrel of $1T federal deficits if Hillary won?

            1. pretzelattack

              i can remember when it was the republicans who were constantly yammering about the deficits, now the dinos are doing the same.again, hard to tell them apart.

            2. Doug Hillman

              Without a doubt; you don’t suppose the Clintons are centimillionaires by luck do you? The Clinton Foundation is a criminal enterprise of pay-to-play influence peddling that eclipses the most corrupt banana republic.

              Plus, we might not even be here with a giddy Neocon warmonger like Hillary in the WH. “We came, we saw, he died. (gleeful giggle)”

              1. Schmoe

                Yes she is indeed a neocon warmonger, but she would have broken the Iran deal, nor have gone to war with Iran (which could still happen). Trump is a worse warmonger than she would have been.
                Also, what does the Clinton Foundation have to do with my comment that we would not be approaching a $1T annual federal deficit if Clinton had won?

        2. jonhoops

          The DLC which birthed Clintonism and Triangulation was originally funded by the Koch’s among others.

    1. Off The Street

      Steve Forbes tipped his hand in the mid-1990s when he wrote about using more money for more political influence. As though he needed to be that obvious.

    2. Jeff

      You think the Dems and Reps represent that variety of differing philosophies? To my eyes, today’s parties are in lock step in several ways, the most significant being both see taxpayers as little more than ATMs with legs. Both clearly see power consolidation as the goal. They differ in who they believe should hold that power.

      Regardless of which tribe you consider you’re part of, the tribe’s leaders are laughing.

      1. KYrocky

        I will concede the difference in the Democratic leadership and Republicans is more a matter of degree than substance today. My reference to the Republican Party I would sum up as: they started it.

        Again, I do not know much about Buchanan, but from what the article describes the fingerprints of his philosophy were evident to me from the day Reagan announced his candidacy for 1980: Cut taxes, increase defense spending, and balance the budget in 4 years! It was such transparent bull from the get-go, but received as totally plausible by so, so many who had to know better, like his eventual running mate, Voodoo Economics Bush. From that moment on the big money turned and flowed to the Republican Party, with the exception of labor unions whose very existence has been forever threatened since.

        Bill Clinton, to me, may have done what he thought he needed to do in order to fund his campaign, but he clearly set the Democratic Party on the path to being Republican-lite in all regards economic, and today that has definitely grown worse. But I believe there is hope for the Democratic Party. Not so for the Republican Party.

  11. Jim Haygood

    Gut public education to the point where ordinary people have such bleak prospects that they have no energy to fight back? Getting it done.

    In New Jersey, a four-decade experiment has been underway to do the opposite of gutting public education — namely, spending 20 percent more per pupil on ‘special needs’ districts than elsewhere. But — oops — now the victims of these well-funded liberal plantations have wandered off the reservation:

    School segregation in New Jersey is de facto segregation, not explicit segregation by law, as was the case in the American South before the Brown decision. But it is institutionalized by a state law in New Jersey that requires children to attend schools in the municipalities where they live, said Elise Boddie, a law professor at Rutgers University.

    Because neighborhoods and towns in New Jersey are so segregated, that law results in segregated schools. So a suit filed by Latino Action Network asks the state to let children cross municipal lines to go to school.

    “Here in New Jersey, we have segregation that’s more intense than any state today in the South,” said Gary Stein, a former New Jersey Supreme Court justice on the court that ordered equal funding for the state’s districts.

    Statewide, 46 percent of the 585,000 black and Latino public school students attend schools that are more than 90 percent nonwhite. Of the 622,359 white students in New Jersey public schools, 43 percent attend schools that are at least 75 percent white.

    If only the black-hearted Buchanan had realized that public education can be an effective tool to keep the poor huddled in their educational ghettos.

    1. Doug Hillman

      As a victim of a mission-field boarding school myself, I was outraged to find that my Arizona schoolteacher neighbor is living in sybaritc splendor on $47k a year. A mind is a terrible thing to waste [tax dollars on]!

    2. skippy


      You do realize that Public Choice is just Trojan Horse to privatize education where then social strata can be effectively managed by the chosen ones….

  12. EoH

    Buchanan concluded that you could only understand them as individuals seeking personal advantage.

    Not much of an observer, then, of human behavior, which should require re-evaluating all his other conclusions.

    The slightest observation of church, charity, army, neighborhood, family, secret society, Ivy League social club, corporate trade association, and billionaire funded “think tank” would suggest the opposite. Humans are a social species for whom self-sacrifice is a defining characteristic.

    Cynicism is one possible explanation for his conclusion. But Buchanan was smart, which means he knew he was drawing a “conclusion” at odds with keen observations of humanity. That strengthens the conclusion, elegantly drawn in MacLean’s book, that he was furthering a political movement, not an economic one.

    1. WobblyTelomeres

      Once one buys into a psychopath’s premise, the rest of their arguments make a lot of sense.

  13. EoH

    Buchanan’s link to the DuPont’s, through Darden, illustrates the close link with the developing neoliberalism.

    His award of the Nobel says more about the arch-conservatism of the Bank of Sweden’s electors than it does about the validity or superlative character of Buchanan’s work in economics.

    1. Grebo

      The Mont Pelerin Society was instrumental in setting up the ‘Nobel’ prize. The committee has MPS members on it. Eight MPS members have won the prize. Buchanan was MPS president from 1984 to 86.

  14. EoH

    Saving capitalists from the predations of democratic government.

    Sounds like projection and a silent coup.

  15. Doug Hillman

    Thank you, Jerri-Lynn, and Lynn Parramore, for a must-read on the guided evolution of the Orwellian dystopia that we frogs are stewing in. It’s astonishing proof of the fantastic neuro-elasticity of the human brain with its capacity to hold six impossible beliefs simultaneously while calmly eating breakfast.

    Why are AI researchers feverishly trying to emulate this capacity for fuzzy-logic? Hawkins is right, if true AI is born, homo sapiens (sic) are doomed.

  16. NoniMausa

    Though they feign to deny this, the wealthy know that the basis of wealth lies in mobilizing and directing the energies of other people. A CEO earning 500X the income of his average worker cannot do 500 jobs. A magnate owning 600 acres of land, or a million dollar painting, cannot singlehandedly maintain or protect those possessions. An emperor with 1,000 concubines needs guards to confine and protect them, and protect the emperor against usurpers (and probably against the concubine horde, too.)

    A democracy can only support its wealthy by means of common wealth, common laws, and common belief in cooperation and human decency. In such a society, the wealthy benefit from fewer challenges by each other and the poorer members of society, and can mostly relax.

    But as in the ecosystem, there is a limited carrying capacity. The American wealthy have perhaps forgotten that “oligarchy” means “rule by a few.” An oligarchy has very few rulers, and with legal, police, and social protections removed, they must spend much of their own attention and treasure in defending against, or challenging, each other. A society ruled by the few, is a poorer society, marked by anxiety and constant risk.

    Breaking down the US rule of law and norms of decency may allow the wealthy to aggregate more wealth and escape prosecution in the short term, but will deprive such operators, and wealthy foreigners, of a safe retreat for their funds and their families. They forget that in a russianized world, any of them can become another Magnitsky.

    1. Doug Hillman

      I’m stealing a start-up idea from your comment: concubine chastity belts, updated with digital tech. Who knew they’d make a comeback?

      1. Duke De Guise

        I live in hyper-ultra-mega-gentrified Manhattan, where not only do people not cook for themselves, but take it as a point of personal pride to not do anything which they can underpay others for. The gig economy, with its stark racial overtones, is out of control.

        However, why should I let mere ethics interfere with my aspirational property rights? This article has convinced me that it’s time to seek funding for my own disruptive start-up, which is certain to become a status marker here: an app that brings “task rabbits” into your home to wipe your ass. I plan to name it “Butt Of Course!”

        There will be a graduated billing scale, whereby the highest prices are charged for having none but the softest alabaster-toned hands perform this one-of-a-kind service, which truly shows how special you are, and which the times we live in demand.

        The initial funding round starts today… and sorry for the vulgarity, but this Buchanan character, his followers and neoliberalism in general are pretty vulgar themselves…

        1. ambrit

          No problemo. Your start up idea shows a ‘fundamental’ insight.
          De Sade had a similar ‘service’ mentioned in one of his philosophic-erotic works. I believe in “Justine” he has the character go to a ‘party’ and in the bathroom encounters a ‘washroom attendant’ who offers his tongue for her ‘personal hygiene’ purposes.
          In general, I consider someones’ demand that I “kiss my (their) a–” a win-win proposition. Not, however, in the De Sade case.

        2. cnchal

          Be careful there. That’s unpaid housework and you will give a Koch funded economist some ideas on how to increase GDP and further crapify the peasant’s lives, like making welfare conditional on providing that service.

          1. Duke De Guise

            As a Disruptive Innovator who likes to Move Fast and Break Things, what care I, as long as I get my skim?

            The working class has always had to take shit; now they have to eat it.

        3. Doug Hillman

          Vulgarity? Naww. It’s the perfect service for self-stroking billionaires who get off on demeaning the proles — picturing paragons of nobility like Mark Suckerberg who calls his lessers “dumb f**ks” for trusting him to have basic human decency.

          You should have applied for a patent before posting. I’m stealing that one too. I’ll call it Uberwipes. In Arizona, we’d probably use Cholla cactus for an especially unique experience.

    2. precariat

      “They forget that in a russianized world, any of them can become another Magnitsky.”

      Their agenda is short-term and not rational when one understands the oligarchs were made by and benefit from a system they are dismantling. A military-tech totalitarianism could displace or rival them easily.

      1. Amfortas the Hippie

        I’ve wondered at that, as well.
        isn’t the wealth(sic) in the form of pretty paper, and ones and zeroes?
        and doesn’t the value of such rely on a sufficient number of folks believing in that value?
        what good is a warren buffet or adelson without all that imaginary wealth?
        Just another useless eater…or dinner, as the case may be.

          1. Amfortas the Hippie

            Yet another author I was only vaguely aware of but should like to read.
            so little time, and such a tiny book budget.

    3. ape

      “They forget that in a russianized world, any of them can become another Magnitsky”

      Yes — they are mad, because it’s obvious. They could also get trapped in a country at war (ask the pre-1946 German ruling class) or a plague could hit (ask the 14th century nobility).

      Since they’re not particularly stupid or particularly ignorant — they only conclusion is that these folks are literally insane. They are under delusions regarding the nature of reality — which means that social cybernetic process must be selective at this point in history, since there is no selective process for sanity at the individual basis.

  17. Sound of the Suburbs

    There was a very good BBC documentary from Adam Curtis about the ideas behind out time which came out in 2007 and is still very relevant

    James Buchanan is in the first one and his ideas on public choice seemed worrying at the time (48.40 mins).

    Politicians should be for sale and be open to incentives, you just get rid of the zealots have a sense of public duty.

    Part 3 is worth watching if you don’t know what positive and negative liberty are.

    It was a revelation when I watched it at the time and I started to get some idea what was going on.

  18. sharonsj

    I have only two thoughts:

    “Some animals are more equal than others.” — George Orwell, “Animal Farm”

    No wonder police forces around the country now have tanks.

  19. sd

    MacLean interprets his discussion to mean that people who “failed to foresee and save money for their future needs” are to be treated, as Buchanan put it, “as subordinate members of the species, akin to…animals who are dependent.’”

    I ran into this ‘belief’ head first at a holiday party when I made the mistake of chatting with a seemingly pleasant woman who was truly just a horrible human being. She was in favor of evicting seniors for higher rents. It wasn’t her problem that they didn’t save enough and had no where to go….

    1. sgt_doom

      And I’ll bet she fervently believed there are ONLY two types of people in the world: predators and prey, and she, of course, is of the predator class . . .

      The way of the sociopath.

  20. EoH

    [T]he Holy Grail was the Constitution: alter it and you could increase and secure the power of the wealthy in a way that no politician could ever challenge.

    No half measures for Buchanan. Permanent subversion of government and the rule of law. Separate them both from the people. All in service to extreme wealth. Government should serve and subsidize wealth. All others pay cash. But do in by stealth, so that his victims thank him.

    If Uncle Milton Friedman was Mr. Outside, James M. Buchanan played Mr. Potter, Mr. Inside. Both have given us the neoliberalism that has taken hold throughout the US and UK. The latter’s brand of neoliberalism and privatization would charm Buchanan, forcing him, like Oliver, to ask for more. Converts to an alien religion always try to outdo their predecessors.

    As harsh as are its revelations, I’ll still take the red pill.

  21. unfettered fire

    Buchanan was either a shyster or he didn’t truly understand how economics works because in this video at 38:00, he asserts that there should be a constitutional requirement for the federal government to balance its budget! This has long been debunked and proven that in the seven times that the budget actually was balanced in the history of the nation, it has led directly to a major financial crash, most recently in 2008, post-Clinton administration.

  22. Chauncey Gardiner

    The Koch-funded Buchanan ideological complex described here is but one node of the interdependent elite network, albeit a node that as a result of its political financing, lobbying efforts, and funding of think tanks and academic chairs is very influential… those who Cicero in ancient Rome called “i pauci”, the few, even as he served them. The question in my mind is whether their system is sustainable without the tacit support of We the People? I think not, but let’s hope they don’t turn to more war as a solution, as some elites have in the past.

    Their Wisconsin template doesn’t seem to be working out too well for them, even with the Foxconn subsidies and tax forbearances:

  23. Scott1

    I live in North Carolina. It feels mean. It very much was when I was a child, adolescent, and an adult. The Economist I believe is the favorite of those with power in the State, is William Petty. He is the one saw work as so miserable that the workers had to be kept in a state of desperation so they would continue to work on your farm.
    “I ain’t gonnah work on Maggie’s farm no more.” Bob Dylan
    Buchanan is just more of the same. Desperation is the American way.
    “You can’t beat compound interest.”, and the most common way to become wealthy is to inherit money and property. -Piketty.
    Piketty represents Economics as a Science because he collected statistics about who was rich and why they were rich. Science is about the facts. Now is the best time ever to be an economist since there are more facts available to the science side of it.
    Rich people get to write the laws. They have a good lock down on that ability. It looks like they like to live in the United States. They get status and security and sex.
    While Obama protected them from any suffering, being stabbed with the pitchfork and turned all of the Americans into their reinsurers I would say that Clinton Unit One was the greatest Republican of all time and Obama was just following in their footsteps.
    Meyer Lansky mobster financial engineering was made legal under Clinton. Obama said so when explaining why no bankers were prosecuted personally for fraud.
    Certainly mobsters have a belief in the righteousness of their selfishness and see people as the sum of their vices.
    Economists write the papers that people of Koch Industries, Enterprises, ALEC turn into laws and Financial Engineers use to secure and advance private wealth and influence.
    The preferred Financial Engineering over Meyer Lansky Financial Engineering is represented by such that David Cay Johnston does in his books.
    David Cay Johnston is an expert on Donald J. Trump and created as a news site specifically to tell the truth of the mobster administration.
    He has as his goal using truth a great society and a great society is one that Defends and Educates all its citizens.
    The goal of the Trump Administration is to dupe the populace and make them more desperate.
    The ICE reign of terror ongoing in our midsts turns us into cowards. Why is there no statue of limitations on the crime of coming to the US and getting a job? Greater desperation, a compromise of the people who have avoided prison since being poor is a crime is what this eras rich have long wanted and have more ability than ever to cause to be.
    Marching and occupation are the form of the revolt. Occupy Wall St. was incomplete. A March on the Treasury uniting Economists such as Warren Mosler, Randall Wray, Michael Hudson, and the most prominent Financial Engineer David Cay is what I have proposed.
    Americans do not know that their own Treasury is where exists the power to alleviate their desperation.
    I hesitate to link to my website in deference to editor Yves Smith, who I am not sure would like for me to do that yet.
    Only current reason NC readers would want to read my website would be for the tactical nature of my proposed mechanized march on the Treasury.

  24. Denis Drew


    Today’s toothless, 80-year-old NLRA is the most flouted law since federal prohibition — while being the law that the average person’s ability/inability to make their weight felt economically and politically most rises or falls with.

    Bernie Sanders union restoration plan “ … would allow employees to form a union by a majority sign-up … require companies to negotiate with a new union within 10 days [of request] … mandate that workers in every state pay some dues … expand the law’s definition of ‘employer’ … .” (I worry why it specifies “new union” — any word on old, long ignored unions?)

    Bernie’s repair bill might turn out to be Bernie’s Band-Aids on such a toxic battlefield (think McDonald’s). We can take our new direction from Wisconsin governor Scott Walker –- and his Republican free-to-decert (sorry, Miltie), yearly scheduled elections for his employees.

    Scott admirers, the Republican Party of Iowa, fancied the same vote-or-die ordeal for their public employees in 2017: 93% voted to support their unions (under same not-to-vote is a “no” vote). “Of the 33,252 eligible voters statewide, 28,448 voted to retain their unions and only 624 cast ballots in opposition.”

    I wonder how union certification votes would play out across the land if our incoming blue Congress (2019) requires union cert/recert/decert-ification elections (not just decert) at every private workplace (one, three or five year cycles; local plurality rules).

    Why Not Hold Union Representation Elections on a Regular Schedule?
    Andrew Strom — November 1st, 2017
    “Republicans in Congress have already proposed a bill that would require a new election in each [private employer] unionized bargaining unit whenever, through turnover, expansion, or merger, a unit experiences at least 50 percent turnover. While no union would be happy about expending limited resources on regular retention elections, I think it would be hard to turn down a trade that would allow the 93% of workers who are unrepresented to have a chance to opt for unionization on a regular schedule.”

  25. JBird

    I want to hate this man, but I feel pity for him instead. What happened that destroyed his humanity?

    His philosophy is extremely foolish because it is so short-sighted like much of modern American “thought”. I am including both liberal and conservative thinking. The divide between conservatism and liberalism can be reduced to a struggle between saving, hopefully what is the best, and changing, hopefully what needs to be, with the changing balance benefiting society as a whole, hopefully. The brakes and the gas. What he espouses is putting the gears into reverse, snipping the brake line, and going off a cliff so that a very few can own the flaming wreckage. It is not even Social Darwinism instead it borders on nihilism. Any decent study of history will show the end of such nonsense.

    What he wrote is not conservative, certainly not American conservatism in the traditional sense. The Founding Fathers, for all their faults and their dislike of the common rabble, believed that the people, as a whole, should have the ultimate say in the ruling the country, albeit heavily moderated by the the upper classes. They also believed that power in the tends to corrupt and that government tends to gain too much power. That is the reason for the entire Bill of Rights for although a strong central government was needed to protect their wealth, the same strong government could become despotic. The First, Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments especially.

    This comes to the reason for this screed of mine. Too many do not bother to study, to try to understand the reasons for why things are the way they are. The Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, was created for a number of reasons after acrimonious debate. One can disagree with their conclusions, with the end results, but how can one strive for changes if one does not know the reasons for the causes of what you want to change? It is like treating a disease with some random treatment hoping that it will work and not kill the patient. Heart pain? What’s wrong, who knows? Here, take some foxglove!

    This is getting too long and too like a screed. Let me just end by saying that creating a government whose job is just to control the masses is a government created to fail when any crisis other than the uppity rabble becomes a problem, like say, global climate change. Also a society, aided by an oppressive government, whose main purpose is to enrich the few will impoverish itself and be open to failure, and even invasion, because it became weak and lost the support of its people.

    Like I implied earlier, James Buchanan, his ideas, his patrons, and their supporters are all fools as the ultimate fate of there creation is its collapse. Their operation might be a success but the patient will die.

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      meandering behind the herd of guinneas, “showing” them where my place is so they’ll eat these damned grasshoppers, a recurring thought reoccurred: what the hell is the draw to hegemony? One thinks of the cartoon mouse or some other comic book villain… “to rule the world…”
      the question remains, Why?
      I think of full spectrum dominance, and all the cold war insanity that it came out of…Teller and Kennan, and all the rest.
      I also think of the cops and the rednecks chasing me in my small town when I was a long haired weirdo teenager…why?
      The inventors and deployers of nuclear bombs are fearful men.
      Those who dream of dominating the whole world are terrified of life, and the other people in it.
      Those who enforce conformity in the name of “freedom and the american way” are frightened children in the bodies of adults, so scared of every damned thing that ain’t them that they would blow the whole thing up to escape the All that they fear.
      I agree…people like Burnham and Buchannan and Bernays and Ed Teller and Meese and Darth Cheney and Rummy and all the rest of the would be hegemons, local, national and global are sad examples of failed humanity and should be pitied…but only after they are removed from power, and safely locked away with finger paints(non toxic)
      that so many of us are so readily fooled into sharing their existential fear and putting the most frightened into positions of power is probably the worse problem.

    2. ape

      “They also believed that power in the tends to corrupt and that government tends to gain too much power.”

      Some did — but not all, and not particularly the George Washington wing. Read the notes from the constitutional convention carefully: a wing of Southerners were literally pushing for GW’s coronation, which he so honorably declined AFTER some of the New England factions threatened to abandon the convention. Thomas Paine was in conflict with those guys for years before.

      The Founders were composed of multiple factions, some of which were not only slave owners, but were positively pro-tyrant, if you want to use that sort of language.

      So, no — JB is not foreign to a certain American sect that goes back to the Founders.

  26. Pablo

    I have just finished her book . I found it very well researched , insightful and quite helpful in understanding the real political implications behind economic arguments on social security , education and Healthcare.
    The intention of those who constructed those arguments, because their true reasons could not be presented to the public, are relevant to have an informed insight into the consequences of those policies.
    I found the book particularly relevant to understand some of the policies that were implemented in Chile before being implemented everywhere else despite, being democracies. Many of the chains in democracy that required at first a dictatorship to implement are now part of mainstream political debate , and at the heart of the European Union construction.
    In the en the book helps opening eyes, and as usual , the reality we then see is quite disturbing.

  27. ewmayer

    Much as the late Mr. Buchanan may have deserved such a punishment, it’s not “lynchpin” but “linchpin”.

  28. precariat

    ‘ …to dismantle Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare as well as kill public education because it tended to foster community values.”

    Their agenda is abhorrent, so they couch it in more acceptable conservative terms like “balanced budgets” and the deficit. Our job as citizens is to call out their repugnant and vicious aims. Thanks to Lynne Paramore and Nancy MacLean.

    On a side note I wonder if Koch and Co have thought about how American democracy enables their political agility, and how their sabotage of these conditions will contribute to their own twilight — either from the people or an inverted totalitarianism.

    1. JBird

      Probably not much long term thinking beyond more, more, more! However that seems to be common in most of American (and European?) political or economic “thought.”

  29. Adam Eran

    Worth adding: Maclean’s book is a nice read. What was surprising to me was the widespread sentiment of Kochs and Buchanan’s other followers that the wealthy are actually the victims of government, which confiscates their property and wealth without anything resembling just cause. It makes more sense, then, that Kochs’ libertarianism stresses property rights above all others. It also makes sense that Koch industries is among the leaders in being fined by EPA for ignoring various environmental regulations.

    1. precariat

      Property rights as a general principle is not the true aim of Koch & Co. It is the hook they use to gain support for their destructive self-serving agenda. Property rights in a few hands is their true aim.

      1. Amfortas the Hippie

        That’s borne out by an anecdote.
        Just north of my 20 acres is a giant hill of Frac Sand—part of an ancient sea shore.
        if a sandmining company…whose directors and shareholders presumably hold the Kockian View of Property Rights…were to determine that that sand was worth their while…MY Property Rights would be as the windblown particulates their open pit mine would spread all around.
        This is where the Randian Perversion of Georgeism would come in: I’m not exploiting that part of the ancient beach that I own…therefore I am not Worthy of it’s possession.
        No matter how you slice it, these paragons of ruthless competition always win.

        The Natgas pipeline that runs a mile back there on my neighbor’s place—Eminent Domain= “for the public good”, to power a new sand washing facility 16 miles north of here.
        The Right doesn’t understand irony…and the Elites on the Right do not understand Hypocrisy.

        I will now channel Smeagol:” Eat them! Eat them!”

    2. EoH

      The socialism of billionaires on billionaires: One for all, all for one!

      Billionaires on hoi polloi: Highwaymen who want something for nothing.

      The billionaire ship captain wants to run his mega-tanker as if it were a single-crewed sloop. He’s in charge and everyone else is a scrounger who adds nothing but cost. Then let him design, build and equip his ship, dock, navigate and steer it, man the midnight watch, load and unload the cargo, keep the engines fueled and running and the ship clean, watch the weather and communicate with ship and shore.

      Ayn Rand fantasies aside, I think the term is “free rider.”

  30. BlueMoose

    If NC had a ‘sticky’ feature I would nominate this article and the comments. I wish there was some way to keep it at the top. But I guess that would not leave room for the next day’s activities.

    Reading this made me think that the ‘homeless’ issue is perhaps not a bug but a feature. A tool used to educate the still working middle class about the fate that awaits them if they complain too much. The 1% don’t have to see them or deal with it.

  31. ape

    How does someone go from a master’s at Middle Tennessee State University (in fact, Teacher’s College at the time) go to a PhD at the University of Chicago?

    Seriously — we all know how this works, and that the filter filters down, not up — undergraduates at Harvard do PhDs in Stanford or University of Florida, but University of Florida graduates almost never do PhDs at Harvard. And “Middle Tennessee Teacher’s College” in 1940 is no University of Florida today, which is still a Tier 1 research university.

    Some step in this story is missing — family connections, military connections, something that would take an intellectual nobody (maybe an intellectual, but still a nobody) to the ranks of Nobel winners.

    And it may also explain the psychological and sociological drivers of such a philosophy.

  32. The Rev Kev

    Maybe having his do a PhD was just a way to have him at University of Chicago for ‘indoctrination’. Also, there may have not been a teaching vacancy open there at that particular time but his presence was wanted hence having him do his PhD there. The important thing was to have him at the University of Chicago. If that all sounds unlikely, I remember a story from the 19th century British Army where an officer had to transfer to his new Regiment as a Private until the vacancy came up for him to be an Officer again. A Sergeant was even detailed to teach him marching drills in the privacy of his quarters so he wouldn’t have to do it with the rest of the Privates.

    1. ape

      But how was he selected? How did they pick out someone that as far as Wikipedia says, was nobody at all, and then turn him into an “economist”?

      My best best — it was something during WWII.

      1. The Rev Kev

        I’d say that the key was that 1975 book “The Limits of Liberty” in distilling his ideas. How that book got to the ‘right people’ like the Kochs may be in those papers that Nancy MacLean found. I would further speculate that there would be a University of Chicago connection somewhere.

        1. ape

          He got his PhD from University of Chicago in 1948. So he goes from Middle Tennessee’s Teacher’s College in 1940 as an economic masters, so a future as a middle manager in some large business with Tennessee connections, and then suddenly after a stint in the military, U Chicago accepts him as a PhD student, which will now direct him into the academic stratosphere by connecting him to the Hayek community. He’s then a made-man!

          That’s a big thing, that couldn’t happen due to anything that he published or publicly did, because he didn’t do anything from 41 to 45, other than, according to Wiki “He served in the United States Navy on the staff of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in Honolulu during the war years, when he met Anne Bakke, whom he married on October 5, 1945.”

          So, he’s “on the staff of Nimitz” and he “marries Anne Bakke”. What could have lead the faculty at UC say — “we need this dood” rather than one of the large number of Ivy Leaguers, European students with family connections, and so on and so forth?

          The answer could even be as simple as affirmative action — let’s get us a real Redneck here as part of the postwar dispensation!

          1. ape

            Answer found — Frank Knight was from Tennessee, so he was looking out for a homey, someone who was even more Tennessee than Frank was.

            So, in a sense it is affirmative action — a Kentucky kid wouldn’t have gotten the PhD. And it was possible for Frank to invert the filter because Cornell and Chicago in 1913 weren’t quite (I think) top as they were in the following generation. But how did Frank Knight manage not to get himself shot in Europe and instead got to play with books?

            The story because even more psychologically/socially curiousier, as you’ve got guys from the wrong background somehow escaping dangerous service like their classmates and climbing the social ladder instead.

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