David Barton vs. reality, manners, and scholarship

As expected, people are finding historical and other errors in David Barton’s critique of the Texas social studies standards.

I noted this in a comment at Texas Freedom Network’s blog, The Insider:

This isn’t exactly an error, but it creeps me out.  Barton goes on at length about  incorporating the views of  a scholar of economics — but he never names the guy, and Barton seems overly affected and concerned about the guy’s residence and Jewishness.

See the section of Barton’s report talking about free enterprise (page 7). The real experts, the social studies teachers and professors whose work the Board appears to have rejected, suggested bringing the economic discussion into the 21st century and use “capitalism” instead of “free enterprise.” This would make the Texas curriculum correlate with the studies in the area done by social scientists, especially economists, and more accurately and precisely describe the system.

That is one reason given for rejecting their work, that the Board doesn’t want to mention capitalism. They don’t want to call capitalism by the name economists use.

But look at Barton’s suggestion. He veers off on a tangent about ethics in capitalism — I would venture that Barton never took any economics courses he can remember, and he’s never read Adam Smith, judging from the nature of his complaint (ethics is very much a discussion in economics). But it just gets weird. He refers to a paper, without citation, by a “Jewish economist” in the “Pacific Northwest.”

Barton doesn’t name the paper. He doesn’t say where it was published, nor offer any other citation by which it might be tracked down. Most creepily, he keeps referring to the “Jewish economist” as if his faith or ethnic background has any relevance, without ever naming the guy.

That isn’t scholarship. He almost makes a good point, but any valuable point is completely overcome by the bigoted lack of scholarship, the mere convention of naming the author of the paper and offering a citation.

Expert? No, certainly not in manifestation. That’s just creepy.

Here is the section I’m talking about:

Comment D: Free-Enterprise & Capitalism
Throughout the TEKS, the term “free enterprise” has been followed by the parenthetical “(free market, capitalism)”.By including the terms capitalism and free-market as synonyms for free-enterprise, perhaps it is now time to consider the merits of an observation concerning capitalism raised by a Jewish economist in the Pacific Northwest.

In previous generations, capitalism and the free-market system was universally operated on the unstated but unanimously assumed foundation of general societal virtue – there was a general set of assumed values and ethics that remained at the basis of transactions.

For example, to this day we assume that when a waiter brings us a glass of water that he did not spit in it before he delivered it to us. We assume that when we get the oil in our car changed that the mechanic actually changed the oil rather than just put a new sticker on the windshield. We make many Golden Rule type assumptions in the operation of the free-market system of capitalism.

When these general societal principles of ethics and morality are observed, the Free Enterprise System works as it should; but when these principles are ignored, the FreeEnterprise System breaks down and produces Bernie Madoff, Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Dennis Kozlowski, John Rigas, Joe Nacchio, Gregory Reyes, James McDermott, Sam Waskal, Sam Israel, Bernie Ebbers, and many others recently convicted of fraud, theft, corruption, and other white collar crimes that bilked clients of billions of dollars. The traditional Free Market System will not operate properly if the guiding premise is the egocentric Machiavellian principle that the end justifies the means.

We are now at a point in our history where we can no longer assume that the previously universally understood ethical basis of the Free Enterprise System will still be observed, understood, or embraced. Therefore, the Jewish economist in the Pacific Northwest has proffered that rather than using “Capitalism,” we instead begin using the term “Ethical Capitalism,” for it captures the historical import of the system and identifies an underlying principle without which the free-enterprise system will not work.
Therefore, I recommend that when we have the phrase “free enterprise (free market, capitalism)” that we instead consider using “free enterprise (free market, ethical capitalism).” It is an accurate recognition of what is one of the unspoken but indispensable elements of the free enterprise system. This change also reinforces the long-standing premise of political philosophers across the centuries that the continuation of a republic is predicated upon an educated and a virtuous citizenry.

Who is he talking about?  What is he talking about?

More information:

  • Steve Schaffersman, the intrepid force behind Texas Citizens for Science, has a longer exposé of Barton’s odd claims and work to frustrate accurate history in Texas at Schaffersman’s Houston Chronicle hosted blog, EvoSphere.  It’s well worth the read, just to see how intricately bizarre and erroneous Barton can be about simple facts of history, and how Barton chooses to misinterpret the Constitution, especially the First Amendment, and how he exaggerates little facts of history into gross distortions of the American story.  I regret I failed to note this article here, in the first edition.
  • Hey, also check out Steve’s other posts on the most recent SBOE meetings, here, and here.

5 Responses to David Barton vs. reality, manners, and scholarship

  1. […] You’ll recall that SBOE has at every possible turn disregarded the advice of famous and serious historians, respected free-market-advocating economists, geographers and educators on these standards.  Economists, for example, want Texas kids to learn about “capitalism,” since that’s what it’s called by economists and policy makers, and colleges.  SBOE thinks “capitalism” sounds too subversive, and wishes instead to require Texas kids…. […]


  2. Nick Kelsier says:

    I think Barton was, to borrow a line from West Wing, having this thought:

    “Don’t worry, we’ll have Jews for the money stuff”


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    A Google search for the phrase “ethical captialism” turns up a lot of other people talking about it — but let’s assume Barton was indeed referring to Lapin. It’s creepier then — Barton can’t list the guy’s name because he’s Jewish? What does the guy’s faith have to do with any validity of any economic theory, or any philosophy? Barton is showing his odd bigotry again, choosing a religious writer Barton appears to discriminate against on religious grounds, rather than talking economic theory and practice. That was my point in noting Adam Smith: There’s plenty of discussion of ethics in Smith’s work. It’s not as if economists had ignored ethics in the marketplace for the past 300 years.


  4. sbh says:

    I’m guessing he’s talking about Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Mercer Island Washington (author of Thou Shall [sic] Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money) who claims on his website to have invented the phrase “ethical capitalism”. The Wikipedia article about him says he’s written for the Wall Street Journal.


  5. Onkel Bob says:

    In previous generations, capitalism and the free-market system was universally operated on the unstated but unanimously assumed foundation of general societal virtue – there was a general set of assumed values and ethics that remained at the basis of transactions.

    This is effectively Social Capital, the development of relationships where inherent trust is a given. However, I do not know of any Oregon or Washington professors that are notable for their scholarship in this field. Like everything that Barton touches, he has left it in a distorted mangled shape. Harrison and Huntington edited a fine book, Culture Matters, on the subject. Fukuyama contributed a chapter titled Social Capital. Perhaps Barton thinks Harvard is in Seattle and Fukuyama is a Semitic surname.


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