The Slander of “Democracy In Chains”

by w3woody

Another Misleading Quotation in Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains”

I’d feel left out if I weren’t misquoted, so I’m relieved to find my name on page 211. Here’s what MacLean says about me and some of my purported allies:

… “David Boaz of the Cato Institute, to choose just one, speaks of the “parasite economy” that divides us into “the predators and the prey.” …

Now: Did I actually say that the poor and working class are “intent on exploiting the rich”? Or “that they contribute nothing”? Well, here’s what I wrote…:

“Economists call this process rent-seeking, or transfer-seeking. It’s another illustration of Oppenheimer’s distinction between the economic and the political means. Some individuals and businesses produce wealth. They grow food or build things people want to buy or perform useful services. Others find it easier to go to Washington, a state capital, or a city hall and get a subsidy, tariff, quota, or restriction on their competitors. That’s the political means to wealth, and, sadly, it’s been growing faster than the economic means. …”

David Boaz then goes on to define James Buchanan’s concepts of public choice, which Nancy MacLean so grossly misunderstands and misrepresents:

One of the key concepts of Public Choice is concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. That means that the benefits of any government program are concentrated on a few people, while the costs are diffused among many people. Take ADM’s ethanol subsidy, for instance. If ADM makes $200 million a year from it, it costs each American about a dollar. Did you know about it? Probably not. Now that you do, are you going to write your congressman and complain? Probably not. Are you going to fly to Washington, take your senator out to dinner, give him a thousand-dollar contribution, and ask him not to vote for the ethanol subsidy? Of course not. But you can bet that ADM’s corporate officers are doing all that and more.

The “predators and the prey”, in other words, is not the rich (as prey) and the poor (as predators), but rent-seeking corporations (as predators)–that is, large corporations enriching themselves through corporate welfare:

Let’s be clear: when public choice economists and I talk about “rent seeking” and “concentrated benefits,” and we point to “subsidy, tariff, quota, or restriction on their competitors,” we’re not trying to protect the rich. We’re talking about ways that businesses, unions, and other organized interest groups seek to use government to gain advantages that they couldn’t gain in the marketplace. And when we suggest limiting the power of government to hand out such favors, we are arguing in the interests of workers and consumers.

As they say, do read the whole thing.


In many ways the Left has been playing a very complex shell game, using emotions in order to avoid the cold hard reality of what our increasingly larger bureaucratic State has been doing for decades.

The Left complains endlessly about “corporate welfare”–but when someone comes out front-and-center to describe the economic mechanisms as to why we have so much corporate welfare, they are blasted by the Left as defending “the rich.” When someone comes out and describes mechanisms by which we can make the economy more equitable by reducing regulations designed to protect the Well Connected, the Left blasts them as trying to hurt “the poor.”

And Professor MacLean of Duke University continues to lash out at the very people who are describing the mechanisms used by the Rich and Well Connected to undermine our Democracy by casting them as the villains in her speculative fiction piece.

It’s almost as if Professor MacLean was, in fact, a useful idiot–a dupe for the rich and powerful, helping them to preserve their status, as she reminds us that “war is peace”, “ignorance is strength” and “freedom is slavery.”

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