October 21st 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Reality of family unit must underlie tax system

EDITORIAL Christianity today: the challenges ahead

CANBERRA OBSERVED Xenophon: a Mr Fixit or a political yo-yo?

DRUGS POLICY Science elbowed aside in rush for latest silver bullet: 'medical marijuana'

TRANSGENDER MARRIAGE Decoys to revolutionary laws redefining sex and marriage

FOREIGN AFFAIRS What is the way out of the Catalan crisis?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Our barmy Army: all politically correct

FAMILY AND SOCIETY The child as weapon in Family Court process

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Faiths and the global future

KOREA Hermit Kingdom versus the Land of Morning Calm

MUSIC Hi-tech lo-fi: Resistance is futile

CINEMA Blade Runner 2049: A cypher unlocking a mystery

BOOK REVIEW The rebels

BOOK REVIEW An attempt to break through the fog


HUMOUR More excerpts from the forthcoming revision of Forget's Dictionary of Inaccurate Facts, Furphys and Falsehoods


EUTHANASIA Victoria's death bill: questions that need answers

TRANSGENDER MARRIAGE: George Christensen calls Parliament's attention to activists' end-game

EUTHANASIA Victoria mistakes killing for compassion

Books promotion page

The rebels

News Weekly, October 21, 2017

DEMOCRACY IN CHAINS: The deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
by Nancy McLean

Scribe, Melbourne
Paperback: 368 pages
ISBN: 9781925322583

Price: AUD$35

Reviewed by Jeffry Babb


American history cannot be understood if the role of the South is neglected. One of the most significant legal events in recent U.S. history is the case of Brown v Board of Education, which required the desegregation of American schools with “all deliberate speed”.

Now, this concerned the South greatly. The people there saw it as an attack on their civilisation. This provoked the voucher system of education as a result. Private schools were white; public schools were black. Even so, it would be unfair to the South to hold that integrating schools was an issue that concerned the South alone; the integration of schools by “busing” was hotly contested also in the northeastern state of Massachusetts.

With the South under assault, it was a case of “Cometh the hour, cometh the man”. The man was James McGill Buchanan. He was born in Tennessee in 1919. His family was undiluted Scotch-Irish; they had been on the land for generations. Buchanan was a tough-minded country boy; he did not let the fact that he graduated from the unfashionable Middle Tennessee State Teachers College restrain his ambitions. He went on to graduate from the University of Tennessee with his Master of Science. He later went on to serve on the staff of Admiral Chester Nimitz, where he observed that men of lesser talents from the northeast, but with better connections, were promoted ahead of him.

Buchanan went on to gain a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago after World War II ended. He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1986. His main contribution to economic theory was the role of government in public finance, in particular public choice theory.

Buchanan was ambitious but he was not a man without principle. He believed that education should not be in the hands of the state and therefore believed some other system should be devised. He was a supporter of voucher systems, but mainly because he could see no other way of extracting the education system from the hands of the state.

He also believed strongly in states’ rights, because he believed that the traditions of the South were being suppressed by the federal government, using Brown v Board of Education as a lever.

Buchanan believed that markets could allocate resources best, but he was not in the same Austrian school of economics as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, who saw markets as a cure-all for all the world’s problems. Buchanan was active in the Mont Pelerin Society, a secretive organisation devoted to promoting free market economics.

The growth of libertarianism in the United States must be, at least in part, attributed to Buchanan. He established a number of academic institutions by which to promote his ideas. Although they were, in theory at least, devoted to the study of economics, it was not economics as the term is usually understood in academe. To be an economist requires an education in mathematics and econometrics, skills in which graduates from Buchanan’s various institutions were singularly lacking. They went on instead to man the think tanks that Buchanan’s confederates funded.

The rise of libertarianism in America was due to the evolution of the Virginia school of economics and Buchanan’s fortuitous combination with the very wealthy, in particular the Koch brothers, who funded Buchanan and his associates. The Koch brothers have funded a plethora of think tanks, including the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. With their multibillion-dollar fortune, they wield immense political power.

With well-coordinated political programs, they sought to wind back public policy to where it was before the “Progressive Era”. In particular, the campaign to strip workers of the right to bargain collectively was especially controversial. The extension of the Southern “right to work” laws (that is, removing the right to organise) to the North was seen as a threat to American organised labour.

In the end, though, Buchanan became disillusioned with the staggering amounts the Koch brothers and other mega-wealthy libertarians were pouring into the libertarian movement in “dark money” – that is, outside regular channels. In this connection, it should be remarked that some of his former confederates did not attend his memorial service after his death in 2013.

Buchanan was one of the most influential intellectuals in post-war America. He sowed the seeds for the triumph of Donald Trump. This book has been critiqued by the libertarians for its alleged distortion of Buchanan’s legacy. Democracy in Chains will, however, be a revelation for most readers. Australia does not have a libertarian movement anything like America’s.

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