David R. Henderson  

Great Moments in Public Choice: LBJ on Paul Douglas

Human Capital, Signaling, and ... Women, Liberty, Marketing, and...
Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois was one of Johnson's more vocal critics. One afternoon LBJ beckoned me to his Senate desk with a grin. "I think I've found a way to defuse Paul Douglas. He was an economist, you know. I think he taught economics in college. Well, I'm gonna name him chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Reports [sic]. I [he?] can't do a damn thing. Hell, a joint committee's usually as useful as tits on a bull. But it'll give Professor Douglas some papers to shuffle and a headline or two and maybe it'll keep him off my neck."
From Bobby Baker, Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator (Norton, 1978), p. 66.

A couple of comments:

1. Notice that LBJ "thinks" Douglas taught economics "in college." In fact, Douglas was a prominent economics professor at the University of Chicago and was one of the two people after whom the Cobb-Douglas production function is named.
2. Bobby Baker, the author of the book, recounts the story. Baker was a close confidant of LBJ when LBJ was Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate in the 1950s. Baker was also involved in a major scandal that revealed that LBJ had received payoffs. Life magazine was preparing a major story on this during the week that ended on November 22, 1963. The scandal was big enough that there was a good chance it would bring LBJ down, the way Nixon's VP, Spiro Agnew, was to be brought down just 10 years later. November 22 was the day, of course, that John F. Kennedy was murdered. Of course, Life dropped the story. Robert Caro tells the story in detail in his latest book on LBJ, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power.

HT to Tom Hazlett.

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CATEGORIES: Public Choice Theory

COMMENTS (6 to date)
Brad D writes:

Very interesting. Here's a conspiracy theory: to protect LBJ, "they" had Kennedy assassinated.

Jon Murphy writes:

Haha Brad beat me to the punch!

Charley Hooper writes:

It was LBJ who encouraged JFK to go to Dallas.

AM writes:

Did LBJ's idea work?

drycreekboy writes:

An interesting fact about Douglas. As a man of ~50 years old Douglas left congress, and served with the Marines during WW2. He was too old to serve in the infantry, but he regularly helped deliver supplies to the front line, under fire, at the meatgrinder Battle for Peleliu. A firsthand account is offered in E.B. Sledge's beautiful memoir With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa.

Johnson, by contrast spent a few months in a Navy uniform, and came under fire, once, riding as an observer in a B-24 Liberator. He returned to the U.S. and to politics; whereupon he began embellishing that experience almost immediately to burnish his image. A few years later he stole the 1948 Senate race in Texas (Good accounts of both are in Caro's book on Johnson, Means of Ascent).

David R. Henderson writes:

Interesting story about Paul Douglas. Thanks. By the way, I remember David Friedman telling me that in the 1950s, when his father, Milton, would testify before the Joint Economic Committee, in the Q&A it would quickly come down to all the Republicans and all the Democrats but Douglas arguing with Milton and Paul, who were on the same side. And Douglas was a liberal Democrat!
Re LBJ and Caro, yes. I always recommend that book to people as a great illustration of many of the principles of public choice.

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