Today I received in the mail Ed Glaeser’s new book, The Triumph of the City. Glaeser is a leading intellectual, and rightfully attracts a lot of attention: his work on urban segregation, for example, has been quite pathbreaking. But he is often sloppy in ways that call his judgments into question. Flipping through the book, I found his discussion of house prices in Houston versus the coasts (surprise: Houston’s are way cheaper), and came acroos this doozy:
The Texas State Constitution of 1876, written as a renunciation of big government during Reconstruction, creates a number of roadblocks against any state income tax.
(emphasis added). This truly deserves the John McEnroe response. First, as Kenneth Stampp demonstrated more than half a century ago, Reconstruction governments were no more profligate than their “Redeemer” successors, and usually less so. But one really has to question the historical knowledge — or indeed even the basic intellectual seriousness — of anyone who suggests that white southerners’ reaction to Reconstruction was about “big government.” Hopefully, the rest of the book avoids this kind of shoddiness.