'Break Through These Shackles': Nancy MacLean on how to stand up to groups like ALEC.

AuthorStockwell, Norman
PositionAmerican Legislative Exchange Council

Q: Let's start with your book, Democracy in Chains, where you looked at how the philosophy of James Buchanan ended up becoming a playbook for the Koch brothers and others. You talk about it rising from the original attempts to counter desegregation in schools.

Nancy MacLean: James Buchanan was the first Southerner to win the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. His whole corpus of work over his career was really a more sophisticated way for the neoliberal or market fundamentalist right to attack the public [sphere]. Rather than just making a case for free markets--markets freed from regulation or social obligation, as Milton Friedman did--Buchanan was more sophisticated. He realized that you couldn't just make a case for the market, you had to undermine the government. Buchanan developed this body of ideas he called public choice economics. But also, and crucially for our time, he developed a way of understanding the sources of twentieth-century public policy and how those policies came from organized collective efforts by social movements, including labor.

And from that, he developed a vision and a strategy for essentially reversing these public policies through elaborate rules changes, culminating in Constitutional change. So all the things that we're seeing come from the Republican Party, as it's been taken over by the Koch donor network; they really are a weaponized version of Buchanans ideas.

That helps us explain the focus of the Koch donor network and many of the operations it funds on changing the composition of the judiciary to the point where we now have six Koch network justices of the nine on the Supreme Court, and also the changing curricula in law schools and the changing of Constitutional understanding through litigation, including decisions like Citizens United, Shelby v. Holder, the Janus case, and so on.

Q: You also have a chapter about the Koch network in a new book called Capitalism Contested: The New Deal and Its Legacies. Talk a bit about how right-wing donors are supporting this transformation of our voting rights in the United States.

MacLean: It's really quite dramatic. Almost as soon as the 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the political radical right [declared] open season on voting rights around the country. They understand their agenda is terribly unpopular, that nobody wants the extreme, libertarian agenda. So the only way that they can win is by weaponizing...

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