Buchanan, Segregation, and Democracy in Chains with Phil Magness

Phil Magness returns to the podcast to discuss the life and work of James Buchanan and to defend him against some of the more bizarre criticisms levied against him.

James Buchanan was a Chicago-school economist who created the field of public choice economics along with Gordon Tullock. He was awarded the Nobel prize in 1986.

Buchanan has received criticism recently from Duke historian Nancy MacLean, whose book Democracy in Chains places Buchanan at the center of a grand right-wing conspiracy to maintain segregation and undermine democratic institutions. Phil shows that the theory of Buchanan as a segregationist falls apart under scrutiny. It all stems from a typo in a footnote that erroneously placed Buchanan’s article on school choice in a segregationist newspaper (the Richmond News-Leader) when in fact the article was published in the competing (and not segregationist) Richmond Times-Dispatch.


 

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We Didn’t Start the Flame War

This week’s episode is a little different. There’s an ongoing controversy related to a twotime guest of this show, Robin Hanson. I talk through the scandal, giving a whole decade of background so you can understand where this scandal comes from.


There are many links for this episode. Here they are in the order they are discussed:

Robin Hanson’s books, The Age of Em and The Elephant in the Brain.

Unequal Beauty Silence” October 19, 2009

Pretty Smart Healthy Privilege” September 26, 2014

Inequality Talk Is About Grabbing” August 7, 2013

Two Types of Envy” April 26, 2018

Why Economics Is, And Should Be, Creepy” May 2, 2018

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The Neolithic Revolution with Andrea Matranga

Andrea Matranga of the New Economics School in Moscow joins the podcast with a fascinating question: Why did humans adopt agriculture in the times and places they did? His research paper, The Ant and the Grasshopper: Seasonality and the Invention of Agriculture, offers a potential solution. Here’s the abstract:

During the Neolithic Revolution, seven populations independently invented agriculture. In this paper, I argue that this innovation was a response to a large increase in climatic seasonality. Hunter-gatherers in the most affected regions became sedentary in order to store food and smooth their consumption. I present a model capturing the key incentives for adopting agriculture, and I test the resulting predictions against a global panel dataset of climate conditions and Neolithic adoption dates. I find that invention and adoption were both systematically more likely in places with higher seasonality. The findings of this paper imply that seasonality patterns 10,000 years ago were amongst the major determinants of the present day global distribution of crop productivities, ethnic groups, cultural traditions, and political institutions.

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Lightships and Public Goods with Vincent Geloso

The assiduous Vincent Geloso returns to the podcast to discuss his work with Rosolino Candela on lightships and their importance in economics. The abstract of their paper reads as follows:

What role does government play in the provision of public goods? Economists have used the lighthouse as an empirical example to illustrate the extent to which the private provision of public goods is possible. This inquiry, however, has neglected the private provision of lightships. We investigate the private operation of the world’s first modern lightship, established in 1731 on the banks of the Thames estuary going in and out of London. First, we show that the Nore lightship was able to operate profitably and without government enforcement in the collection of payment for lighting services. Second, we show how private efforts to build lightships were crowded out by Trinity House, the public authority responsible for the maintaining and establishing lighthouses in England and Wales. By including lightships into the broader lighthouse market, we argue that the provision of lighting services exemplifies not a market failure, but a government failure.

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Experimental Economics and the Origin of Language with Bart Wilson

My guest for this episode of Economics Detective Radio is Bart Wilson of Chapman University. He is the author of many experimental economics studies. Our conversation today focuses on one particular study entitled Language and cooperation in hominin scavenging. The abstract reads as follows: Continue reading Experimental Economics and the Origin of Language with Bart Wilson

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Refugee Waves, Mass Immigration, and Jordan with Alex Nowrasteh and Andrew Forrester

My guests for this episode are Alex Nowrasteh and Andrew Forrester of the Cato Institute. Our topic is a working paper they recently published titled How Mass Immigration Affects Countries with Weak Economic Institutions: A Natural Experiment in Jordan. The abstract reads as follows:

Saddam Hussein’s unexpected 1990 invasion of Kuwait forced 300, 000 Kuwaitis of Palestinian descent to flee into Jordan. By 1991, this large exogenous population shock increased Jordan’s population by about 10 percent. Jordanian law allowed these refugees to work, live, and vote in Jordan immediately upon entry. The refugees did not bring social capital that eroded Jordan’s institutions. On the contrary, we find that Jordan’s economic institutions substantially improved in the decade after the refugees arrived. Our empirical methodology employs difference-in-differences and the synthetic control method, both of which indicate that the significant improvement in Jordanian economic institutions would not have happened to the same extent without the influx of refugees. Our case study indicates that the refugee surge was the main mechanism by which Jordan’s economic institutions improved over this time.

Continue reading Refugee Waves, Mass Immigration, and Jordan with Alex Nowrasteh and Andrew Forrester

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Universities, Adjuncts, and Public Choice with Phil Magness

Phil Magness returns to the podcast to discuss the public choice economics of universities. We discuss the internal politics of universities, their rising reliance on adjunct scholars to teach courses, the increasing numbers of administrators staffing universities, and the trends in faculty employment across disciplines.


 

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Prohibition, Arkansas, and Bootleggers and Baptists with Jeremy Horpedahl

Today’s guest is Jeremy Horpedahl of the University of Central Arkansas. Jeremy’s work builds on a famous theory from Bruce Yandle’s 1983 article ” Bootleggers and Baptists-The Education of a Regulatory Economist.” The article explored the idea that laws are often passed or defended by coalitions of economic interests (bootleggers) and moral crusaders (Baptists). Though these two groups may be quite different, as in the canonical example, policies are unlikely to succeed without support from both groups.

Jeremy’s work focuses on a particular example of bootleggers and Baptists in the modern world; specifically in Arkansas. Arkansas has many dry counties, where alcohol may not be sold. Many of these dry counties are adjacent to wet counties, where liquor stores just across the county line can sell to the residents of the dry county. When there are ballot initiatives to make dry counties wet, these liquor stores have the most to lose, so they often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to prevent the prohibition laws from going to a vote.


 

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The Case Against Education with Bryan Caplan

My guest for this episode is Bryan Caplan of George Mason University. We discuss his latest book, The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money, in which he argues that the social value of education is negative.

This may seem paradoxical given that more educated individuals tend to earn more than less educated individuals. This can be explained in two ways: First, people who get more education were likely more skilled in the first place; in other words, there is a selection effect. Second, people who are already skilled can use education to demonstrate their skill to employers; economists call this signalling. Continue reading The Case Against Education with Bryan Caplan

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Garrett M. Petersen's blog about markets, institutions, and ideas.