At one point, a few years back, I was following dozens of
blogs. Each morning, over a hundred new posts would be flagged in my Google Reader
, and I
would diligently make my way down through them. When the spirit moved me, I
would click from Reader into the blog’s actual website and post a comment. Many
people did the same. It was a rich environment that provided instant feedback
to bloggers and a stimulating environment for the commentariat. It was hard to
keep up the pace after Google Reader was discontinued
Eventually I stopped following all but my favorite blogs. Stationary Waves
, along with all the other blogs I read, has
suffered from lack of good content ever since.
Through that process, though, I was able to discover a few
important bloggers who have made an extremely positive impression on me. These
people exemplify what I believe to be an ideal mix of sharp thinking, humble
inquisitiveness, commitment to discursive ethics (or, as I loke to call it, good-faith
), and human decency. If, by the time I die, my own personal
character is even a pale reflection of theirs, I will consider myself a
successful human being.
I’m speaking of Robert
, David R. Henderson
, and Jason Kuznicki
. All three offer
slightly different “flavors” of economics-informed libertarianism, but more
important than that, all three exemplify the traits described above and seem
like really, really
beings. I admire them for that. They’ve all earned a lifelong fan in me.
I didn’t know Nobel Laureate James
, nor do I know anyone who did. I have never heard any account, secondhand
or otherwise, of what kind of a person he might have been. In absence of any
reason to conclude that he was a nefarious villain, I assume he was a good
The scandal surrounding Nancy
, which alleges that Buchanan’s ideas were part of a
right-wing – and perhaps even a white supremacist – conspiracy against people
of color and democracy itself, has had an interesting effect on me.
I say “effect on me” not because I think I’m relevant to the
discussion of MacLean’s and Buchanan’s ideas, but because any time deeply held
beliefs are hotly contested, I turn inward and examine my own feelings in light
of what I’ve heard or read. You, the reader, need not care what effect the scandal
has on me, but I’m bringing it up under the beliefs that (a) I still have
readers (ha, ha), and (b) we can all learn something here. Similarly, you might
not necessarily care how a professional athlete’s good sportsmanship affects
your neighbor, but if your neighbor learns an important life lesson while
watching an NBA game, you might benefit from hearing what he learned.
First, I’ll tell you what I haven’t learned from this row. I haven’t learned anything new about
Public Choice economics. I haven’t learned anything new about the Koch
brothers. I haven’t learned anything new about politics or about academia. I
certainly haven’t learned anything new about democracy. If MacLean’s intention
was to teach people like me – informed laypeople with a prior interest in the
subject matter and a genuine desire to learn – something new about any of these
things, she did not achieve her goal. The comments sections from the few blogs
I still read also attest to this.
I hasten to add that Buchanan’s defenders have also not taught me anything new about
ibid. In fact, the whole episode has done more harm than good to all involved,
at least in my opinion. Rather than debating the merits of public choice theory
and its alternatives, which I presume
MacLean would rather I learn about, we’ve all been debating the merits of
accusing a dead economist and political theorist of racism.
In hindsight, we all should have known that only harm could
ever come of such a process.
This brings me to what I have learned instead.
Imagine that James Buchanan was a good man. Whatever else
you might think of his ideas or his principles, imagine that he was essentially
a good man. How sad for a good man who was a professional academic to have his
whole intellectual legacy besmirched by a person whose primary motivation was
to disagree with his politics.
I’m sensitive to the rebuttal there: It seems tone-deaf to
pity a dead rich white guy who got called bad names when the victims of
institutionalized racism in America have had to deal with much worse. I agree:
it is far worse to contest with the cultural obstacles associated with being
black in America than than it is to be a successful academic whose legacy was
questioned by another successful, white academic. I don’t want to minimize this
point, either. In the grand scheme of things, racism is a much bigger problem
than the integrity of a couple of academics or the fact that they might be
falsely accused of being bad people.
I’m not saying that it’s a shame that James Buchanan stands falsely accused of racism. I’m saying that it’s
a shame that any good person would have to be raked over the coals, their words
used against them, and possibly even twisted to mean the exact opposite of what
that person stood for.
Robert Murphy, by virtue of his association with the Ludwig
von Mises institute, has
recently been accused of racism
of a recent Jeff
. I think this is unfair for reasons of good sense, but that’s
not really what bothers me about his having been called a racist. What really
bothers me is that any stranger who makes a point to acquaint himself with the
works and personal character of Robert Murphy can see that he is a genuinely
good man. And, in his case, I am
privy to people who know him, and they all attest to the goodness of this
character. There is, in short, no available evidence suggesting that Murphy is
a bad person
, much less a racist. And
furthermore, if there were
evidence, Murphy would be the first person to own up to it. That’s how good a
person he seems to be.
So, all this stuff got me thinking.
We never know what we’ll be accused of at some future date.
We’ll never know how our words and actions will be judged by people in the
future. I’ve made a living working for insurance companies, and pharmaceutical
companies, and marketing organizations, and big data. A plausible argument
could be made that I have helped contribute to much of the world’s evil. I don’t
see it that way, but the argument could be made, and defended.
One day, someone might choose to see me that way, as a
perpetrator of evil rather than a regular guy who made his living in data
analysis. If I’m being honest, that future person might very well be my own
child, in her teenage or early adult years, learning to assert her own values
and question my worth as a man and a father. It’s certainly happened to many
parents before me. It’s a real risk.
In fact, there may be even more reasons to vilify me. Am I
polite enough? Am I an open enough communicator? Do I condescend too much? Am I
rude? Obnoxious? Foul? Am I self-absorbed? Do I fail to contribute enough to
charity, or to society? Am I too apt to allow my insecurities to discolor my
view of other people? Do I drink too much, swear too much, scowl too much? Am I
a wastrel? Am I a miser? Is my need for privacy too costly for others? Do I expect
too much from other people? Am I too emotional? Not emotional enough?
There are, indeed, many ways I have failed, and one day they
might all catch up to me. I may die and no one will feel any pain or sorrow at
my loss. They may only show up to my funeral out of an awkward sense of
obligation – if they show up at all!
Or I may simply prove inconsequential, never inspiring much
of any thought to anyone.
All of this may happen. All I can do is endeavor to be the
kind of good people I see in Murphy, and Henderson, and Kuznicki. All I can do
is try to learn from their example – and examples set by many other people, of
course – apply those lessons to my life, and hope that some day I will have
done enough that my child will think, “My father was a good man.”
Then my tired bones can rest in peace.