Politics, in America, offer a study in perversity. The opinion polls tell us that more and more people regard themselves as conservatives. In economic matters, they lean toward freedom, low taxes, and a stable currency. On the so-called social issues, they are against forced busing, crime, the violent disruption of schools, abortion-on-demand, pornographic magazines and films, and sexual promiscuity. Yet the governments we get seem powerless to support the economic and social life-styles that the new conservative majority so obviously wants.
It could be an accident of Watergate. The Republicans, with a 1968 and 1972 conservative mandate in hand, simply blew it. Such, at any rate, is the conclusion of Kevin Phillips, William Rusher and other close students of demographic trends. Since only a minority of the voters bothered to turn out for the 1974 mid-term elections, it could be that we are, at this moment, saddled with a most unrepresentative Congress.
What are the chances for conservatism, which we must equate with traditional liberalism, in 1976? A lot will depend on people who are casually described as the "ethnics." William F. Gavin, who wrote speeches for the Nixon entourage in 1968 and lived to be disillusioned, takes up the cudgels on behalf of these "ethnics" — the Poles, the Italians, the Irish —in Street Corner Conservative (Arlington House, $7.95). In a delightfully sardonic prose Mr. Gavin tells us that big centralized government, with its costly Great Society programs and its attempt to legislate equality, has utterly failed the urban, or street corner, conservative. Mr. Gavin is not at all certain when it comes to predicting the future, but a big bloc of votes is there for the taking if some party or dominant political figure really decides to abandon the stereotype that holds the poor must go with the "liberals" because they have done it through all the years of the Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy coalitions.
Mr. Gavin grew up in Jersey City. He has been to college and has taught in high school, and he can give all of Bill Buckley’s arguments against what he calls, "the left-liberal canon." He thinks sophisticated reasoning is important when you are confronting "liberal" college professors, but it is enough for himself, and the people he comes from, that "liberal" programs have not worked. The "urban conservative," who is, more often than not, a Roman Catholic, comes from a great tradition whether his name is Gavin or Mikolajczyk or Fasano. He doesn’t need references to John Stuart Mill to convince him that "liberal" toleration of the wave of anarchy and campus terror of the late Sixties and early Seventies did nothing for the working man or his family. Nor does the urban conservative need a detailed knowledge of Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action to tell him that free enterprise is "both eminently sensible and demonstrably effective." The street corner conservative’s ideas of freedom within a context of moral order come from something he "has known since childhood."
So what is it that Mr. Gavin’s people want? Mr. Gavin spells it out in negatives that are thoroughly consistent with historic Jeffersonianism. The urban conservatives "don’t want anything, except to be left alone, to live their own lives." The only part of the world they want to change is the small part they are familiar with — "and even this kind of change must be slow." They like the structure of life into which they were born, and they are content if only they can have "a little bit more of what they already have for themselves and a chance of material betterment for their children." They don’t go in for abstract "do-goodism," but if a "second collection" is taken up in church for the "hungry and the poor" they will pour forth money because it is going through a channel they trust.
The urban conservative is loyal to his union, but this does not mean that his vote is in anybody’s pocket. Mr. Gavin asks a simple question: "have our unions been loyal to us?" He doubts that the urban conservative, as a union man, is prepared to "depend on the total domination of a given craft or industry by an organization that won’t let people work unless they belong." In short, the urban conservative believes in "right to work." This is why, in all the public opinon polls, "right to work" fares almost as well with union members as it does with the general public.
Mr. Gavin does not see his street corner conservatives as "beholden to business," whether "big, small or medium." Business, to the urban conservative, is "a way of making money." Mr. Gavin remarks that "maybe we should start making some of that money ourselves instead of using our energies to help liberal intellectuals stop others from making money." This could be "crass materialism" in "liberal" eyes, but if it is, then "let the liberal intellectuals sell their summer cottages, let the college professors cut off their consultant fees," and "let John Kenneth Galbraith stop flying to Switzerland." "Then, and only then," says Mr. Gavin, "will we stop looking for material comfort in a legitimate way."
Mr. Gavin doesn’t kid himself that his street corner conservatives like the military life. But they know "that it is a tough world and that the military is all that is standing between us and a lot of people who would do this country as much harm as they could." Urban conservatives want a strong defense in order to preserve "a chance to be what we want to be, which is a hell of a lot more than a lot of our friends and relatives in certain nations of Europe have had for a generation."
The street corner conservative doesn’t trust Communism, and positively dislikes Communists. But he "can live with them and despise them at the same time" provided they keep their distance. What Mr. Gavin wants, as a foreign policy, is "a cool but correct attitude toward totalitarian dictatorships that have the potential to destroy our nation." This is something different from a constant slobber about "detente." It does not mean going into agonies about the "destruction of democracy" when a potential Leftist totalitarian tyrant such as Allende gets booted out of office in Chile.
The street corner conservative is often called a "racist." Mr. Gavin denies the imputation. "Most city people," he says, "have certain patterns of life built around a school or a church or a certain group of stores and anything that upsets that pattern is fiercely combatted." The working class revolt against forced busing for racial balance is a "predictable result of neighborhood pride."
Quite aside from its argumentative thrust, Street Corner Conservative is a flavorsome evocation of a time and a place. Mr. Gavin tells what it was like growing up in Jersey City when the town still had a baseball team in the International League and when "hanging around" on street corners was an innocent way of passing the time. I would suspect that, somewhere in his system, Mr. Gavin has a fine novel about growing up in a city before the shibboleths of "urban renewal" ruined all sense of neighborhood. It would not be a novel about an "underprivileged" childhood; it would be a sympathetic story of regional — and family — love.
COMMON SENSE ECONOMICS: Your Guide To Financial Independence In The Age of Inflation, by John A. Pugsley. (The Common Sense Press, P. 0. Box 2535, Santa Ana, California, 1974) 252 pages, currently $10.00.
Reviewed by Robert G. Anderson.
Books offering personal financial and investment advice flood the market these days. Unfortunately, the vast majority of such books only further the state of present-day confusion over how to survive in this age of inflation.
Mr. Pugsley’s volume is an out standing exception in this category of "how to" books, because he approaches his subject with an understanding of general economic theory. In his Foreword he acknowledges his intellectual debt to such free market scholars as Ludwig von Mises, Eugen von BohmBawerk, Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, and Frederic Bastiat. Mr. Pugsley accepts and applies fully the teachings of the Austrian school of economics in his writings.
An ominous redistributive state with the inflation that it generates has made the retention of private wealth increasingly more difficult. Concerned individuals are continually seeking counsel and advice, but all too often the information gained is more harmful than none at all. The discovery of a book that can productively assist individuals in the preservation of their wealth in the years ahead is welcome indeed.
Common Sense Economics properly begins with an analysis of money and government. It then follows with a discussion of investment goals and the selecting of various portfolios in pursuit of those goals. Particularly valuable are the chapters on insurance and the income tax. It is a book that every investor should review.
A concluding warning from Mr. Pugsley should be heeded. "For the great masses of investors, the next ten years will mean the end of their wealth. They are the ones who will foolishly go forward under the assumption that the future will be the same as the past… Those who succeed will do so against overwhelming odds, and they will do so because they are consciously or unconsciously following the natural economic principles as outlined in this book."
The author applies his understanding of inflation even to the offering of his book. No price will be found printed in Common Sense Economics. It currently sells for ten dollars, but in this age of double-digit inflation generating money destruction, the price will surely move upward.
THE FEDERAL RATHOLE by Donald Lambro (Arlington House, New Rochelle, N.Y., 1975) 207 pp., $7.95
Reviewed by Edward A. Lewis
No pressure group lobbies for waste in government; no one defends it. Yet billions of taxpayers’ dollars steadily drain down a thousand ratholes. A federal program, the author notes, "once enacted… goes on seemingly forever, its funds appropriated almost automatically each year, its original rationale for being often all but forgotten." Lambro names over a thousand agencies, offices, bureaus, boards and so on, and then analyzes fifty of them in depth, showing that their elimination would save twenty-five billion dollars. And this is only the beginning: "The fifty cuts proposed in this book are really intended to represent a cross section of the total cuts that could be made in federal spending."
Naturally, it takes a lot of paperwork to legitimize this foolishness. "Federal paperwork now crams nearly thirty million cubic feet of space and costs an estimated fifteen billion a year to handle. Placed back to back, the federal files would stretch the 5,500 miles from Washington to Cairo — and are forever growing."
Governmental extravagance is not news; every dollar spent to underwrite some improper function of government is a dollar wasted. And the rightful limitation of government is a philosophical issue. But many people have acquiesced in overextended government because they were led to believe that government was spending "other people’s money." The reader of Lambro’s book can’t help but realize: "It’s my money they’re wasting!" Such a realization is an essential part of an improved public opinion.