Great Moments in Public Choice: LBJ on Paul Douglas
By David Henderson
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.