By George Leef

Founded in 2008, the Center for the History of Political Economy (CHOPE) at Duke University aims to revitalize an aspect of the study of economics that is sadly in decline, namely the study of the history of economic thought. If you think it’s bad that English majors today can earn their degrees without ever reading Shakespeare, it’s equally bad that econ majors can earn their degrees without ever taking a course covering the development of economic analysis going back through time to investigate Smith, Marx, Jevons, Pareto, Keynes, Hayek and others.

Alas, courses on the history of economic thought are disappearing. HOPE wants to counter that.

Does that mission sound ominous to you? It shouldn’t.  There is nothing sinister in studying the history of economic thought.

But in today’s academic culture, “progressives” delight in finding dark threats simply by pointing to funding sources for programs. If even a few dollars come from “right-wing” funders, that is enough to whip up a frenzy against a program and Duke’s CHOPE has just experienced that.

Writing in the September 24 Duke Chronicle, a Ph.D. candidate in history, Eladio Bobadilla, argued that because CHOPE has accepted money from the Koch Foundation, it is thereby complicit in promoting white supremacy.

Bobadilla has swallowed the leftist line that the Koch brothers are racists.

The truth is that they are not racists or fascists. They’re libertarians who want to downsize government to benefit all people, but the trope that they’re supporters of anti-minority fascism is too useful an idea for leftists to give up.  It works for them like the “Two Minutes Hate” in Orwell’s 1984. If you accept money from the Kochs, that means that you must be in league with their dark plot to dominate America.

According to Bobadilla, Koch money supports a network of “neo-Confederate academics” including the professors who run HOPE. Moreover, he alleges that Austrian School economics (which is one of the many strands of thought HOPE covers) is somehow allied with violent, alt-Right political movements. That is sheer nonsense. The Austrians consistently argue that government economic control is counter-productive if you want prosperity and peace. The Nazis denounced them in the ‘30s.

If Bobadilla had bothered to learn anything about that subject, he couldn’t have written his nasty screed.

In a devastating rebuttal to Bobadilla, HOPE director, Professor Bruce Caldwell, along with E. Roy Weintraub and Kevin Hoover write of Bobadilla’s attack, “These scurrilous insinuations would be laughable if they were not so vile. It is hypocritical to group the Center along those for whom ‘history and truth are reduced to whatever the powerful say they are’ when Mr. Bobadilla has himself shown no respect for the truth and has not bothered with due diligence that one might expect of a professional historian of checking the facts and gathering evidence for his assertions….”

This episode is highly reminiscent of the slanderous work of another Duke historian, Nancy MacLean, who showed a similar disregard for truth and fact checking in her vicious attack on public choice theory and Nobel Laureate James Buchanan, Democracy in Chains. (Here is just one of dozens of counterattacks against that book.)

Just as Bobadilla didn’t deign to speak with anyone at CHOPE, neither did MacLean deign to speak with any of the public choice scholars at Duke, such as Professor Michael Munger. For both, the launching of politically correct assaults is more important than getting at the truth.

The sad fact is that “progressives” like Bobadilla, MacLean and many others are ready to jettison the canons of academia so they can make baseless smears against people they think they dislike. Actually, that is retrogression, not progress.