James M. Buchanan and the Political Economy of Desegregation

65 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2017 Last revised: 7 Aug 2019

See all articles by Phillip Magness

Phillip Magness

American Institute for Economic Research

Art Carden

Brock School of Business, Samford University; Independent Institute

Vincent Geloso

Bates College; University of Western Ontario - King's University College

Date Written: November 15, 2017


Recent historical works, most notably 2017’s Democracy in Chains, claim that 1986 Nobel Laureate James M. Buchanan’s formative contributions to political economy were inspired in significant part by hostility to Brown v. Board of Education. This argument suggests that the research agenda of public choice economics emerged from an opportunistic alliance with Virginia’s “Massive Resistance” to school integration and should thus be situated within the racially tinged tradition of southern conservatism. While Buchanan wrote very little on the economics of race, an extensive review of archival evidence as well as his published works refutes this claimed association. Buchanan’s work is better understood in the context of his Chicago school mentor Frank Knight as well as his own support for the public choice contributions of W.H. Hutt, rather than the unattested links to southern racial conservatism that are posited by MacLean. To the contrary, we show that Buchanan opposed segregation and believed that the competitive processes of an educational voucher system would undermine the Massive Resistance status quo. We accordingly reject the primary thesis of Democracy in Chains and offer a corrective account of the relationship between Buchanan and the segregation debate.

Keywords: Public Choice, James M. Buchanan, Segregation

JEL Classification: D7, J15, B31

Suggested Citation

Magness, Phillip and Carden, Art and Geloso, Vincent, James M. Buchanan and the Political Economy of Desegregation (November 15, 2017). Southern Economic Journal, 2018, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3071403 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3071403

Phillip Magness (Contact Author)

American Institute for Economic Research ( email )

PO Box 1000
Great Barrington, MA 01230
United States

Art Carden

Brock School of Business, Samford University ( email )

800 Lakeshore Drive
Birmingham, AL 35229
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.artcarden.com

Independent Institute ( email )

100 Swan Way
Oakland, CA 94621-1428
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Vincent Geloso

Bates College ( email )

Department of Economics
Lewiston, ME
United States

University of Western Ontario - King's University College ( email )

266 Epworth Avenue
London, Ontario N6A 2M3

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