Freeman

BOOK REVIEW

A Reviewer's Notebook - 1976/9

SEPTEMBER 01, 1976 by JOHN CHAMBERLAIN

Long before the Marxist Salvador Allende took over Chile as a minority President in 1970, Chilean economists were studying on an exchange program at the University of Chicago. So, when Professor Milton Friedman visited Chile last year—the second year of the military junta that succeeded the deposition of Allende, who had tried to impose socialism on his country by shifty extra-legal means—he had a ready audience. Friedman’s advice to the junta was to use "shock treatment" to overcome the inflation, which had been running at 700 per cent. He urged the generals to get their government out of the business of spending money that had to be extorted from the people either by taxes or inflation. Fried-man’s three lectures, published in Spanish, are a popular staple in the local bookstores.

But the "Chicago school" had had the ears of the junta government before Friedman had arrived personally on the scene. So pervasive have been the free market theories of Frank Knight, Henry Simon and Milton Friedman in Chile that economists in general are referred to in fashionable Santiago circles as "Chicago boys." Some of the economists (those who have studied in the U.S. at Columbia or Harvard) resist the term. Whether they went to Chicago or M.I.T., however, they all acknowledge that the Chilean economy under Allende’s Statism had been a complete disaster.

Communists, since the deposition and death of Allende, have been assiduous in their attempt to make a martyr out of him. The myth goes that General Pinochet, the head of the Chilean army, and his junta colleagues from the navy, the air force and the carbineros, or national police, snuffed out a promising experiment in trying to take a peaceful road to socialism. There was to be a "revolution within the form" of democracy. Allende, so the Communists will tell you, was on his way toward success without interfering with freedom of the press or the right of pluralistic interests to support their own views in the give-and-take of parliamentary battle.

The truth, as a remarkable book called Chile: The Balanced View, edited by Francisco Orrego Vicuna (University of Chile Institute of International Studies, Santiago, P.O. Box 14187, Section 21) makes plain, is that Allende dug his own grave. Chile: The Balanced View is not the work of partisans. Published in both Spanish and English, it consists largely of articles by such respected U.S. and British scholars and journalists as Robert Moss of the London Economist, Paul Sigmund of Princeton University, Edward Glab of the University of Texas, William Ratliff of the Stanford Hoover Institution, James Theberge of Georgetown University and Markos J. Mamalakis of the University of Wisconsin.

A Radical Plan

What happened in Chile was the inevitable consequence of Allende’s attempt to ruin the middle classes as a prelude to bringing off a radical socialist golpe. When he assumed power Allende had a foreign exchange balance in the Treasury. With this balance as his cushion, Allende decided he had time to build an absolute majority (he had been elected in a parliamentary run-off after achieving a thirty-five per cent popular vote) by subsidizing consumption throughout a wide stratum of the people who would be called "shirtless ones" in the neighboring Argentine. By arbitrarily defining any company that had $500,000 capitalization as a "monopoly," Allende moved boldly to take over practically the whole of Chilean industry. He wiped out unemployment by loading the payrolls of banks and steel companies and the expropriated mining sector. Wages were raised without regard to productivity. Anaconda and Kennecott, which had been mining copper on a partnership basis with the previous Chilean governments, were told to skedaddle. They would get no money for their property.

The Christian Democratic government of President Eduardo Frei had already started a land "reform" before Allende took power. It had not been a success. But Allende made things much worse by putting peasants into collectives and failing to provide them with such mundane things as guidance, fertilizer, seed and machinery. Once the plantings that had been done under Frei had been exhausted, Chile had little locally grown food. In 1973, the last Allende year, Chile had to import $600,000,000 in grain, meat and other food from abroad.

Wild Inflation

With the payrolls loaded with uneconomic employees at high wages, with the copper miners taking it easy, and with queues lengthening at the markets, Allende found himself in the middle of a rip-roaring inflation. He had told Regis Debray, the French follower of the guerrilla Che Guevara, that his commitment to a "peaceful" revolution was merely tactical, and he had said he was not "President of all the Chileans." His obvious duplicity had caused the Christian Democrats, Chile’s big center party, to desert the coalition that had put him in power. When the truckers, most of them small businessmen who owned one or two trucks, struck to forestall their incorporation into a state-owned agency, it really paralyzed the country.

Allende had brought the army into his government, giving it a taste of power. When he refused to punish those responsible for a mutiny of left-wing lower-rank naval officers, and when the news seeped out that the Castroite radicals to the left of Allende’s own Popular Unity socialists were about to use their illegal arms caches for a Communist takeover, General Pinochet of the Army, General Leigh of the Air Force, and their opposite numbers in the Navy and the Police, decided that it would be suicidal to let the "democratic" charade go on.

The importance of the articles by Robert Moss, Paul Sigmund and the rest in Chile: The Balanced View is that they conclusively demonstrate the widespread unpopularity of Allende’s misnamed Popular Unity government. The courts and the parliament had already declared that Allende’s tactical moves were illegal. But there was no way of coming to grips by peaceful democratic means with the situation when Allende chose to disregard his own courts and legislature.

Since Allende

Chile: The Balanced View needs a sequel to bring things up to date. Unlike the Peruvian generals who want to run their own economy on "planned" lines, the Chilean junta is doing its best to turn things back to individual owners. The Finance Minister, Jorge Cauas, who studied under Arthur Burns at Columbia University, is letting "Chicago boy" thinking dominate much that he is doing. The land seized in the Frei and Allende "reforms" is being sold, in middle-sized chunks, to farmers who are willing to work it. The result has been an agricultural turn-around. Chile now has a surplus of foodstuffs that are being put into processed forms for export. The only food that Chile now imports is grain. With an expendable margin of wines, leather goods and other "non-traditional" exports, Chile’s international trade in actual goods and services is now in balance.

The inflation is still high. (Cauas says it runs at 200 per cent.) The reason for this is that the government’s Spartan decision to pay such foreign creditors as Anaconda, Kennecott and other mining companies in full for their nationalized proper-ties forces the treasury to print pesos to buy foreign exchange from the Chilean exporters. The paper pesos become internal purchasing power. This monetary basis for the inflation will disappear when the foreign debt has been reduced to manageable proportions.

Cauas doesn’t think this day is too far distant. His ideal—which would not wholly please a Chicago economist, not to mention an anarcho-capitalist—is to reduce government participation in the economy to twenty-five per cent, mainly accounted for by the national copper mines and State banking. This is not economic orthodoxy on the Vienna school model. But it is better than the sixty-seven per cent "public-sector" domination that had been saddled on the country by Allende.

The reason why the Communists carry on so unrelentingly about Chile is obvious: they resent any proof that the free market really works.

 

LAURA: THE LIFE OF LAURA INGALLS WILDER by Donald Zochert. (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1976) 260 pp.

Reviewed by Bettina Bien Greaves

The original eight autobiographical novels in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series were written primarily for children, ages 8-14. They appeared first between 1932 and 1943.’ Since then, two, going on three, generations of young people have enjoyed these tales of pioneering in the middle west. Boys and girls have laughed at Laura’s escapades as a youngster, wept at the tragedies and misfortunes that befell her and her family and rejoiced at her love affair and her marriage to the dashing young Almanzo Wilder. The books have also pleased parents who appreciate their old-fashioned homespun philosophy. Woven throughout all the volumes is the idea that it is "best to be honest and truthful, to

These books have also inspired a TV dramatization, the "Little House on the Prairie" series, produced by, and starring, Michael Landon.make the most of what we have, to be happy with simple pleasures and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong." Laura had plenty of opportunity to learn "that life is not always kind, or nice," for in the raw western territory where she and her family pioneered something was always going wrong. Hardships, disappointments and death were no strangers. Laura came to realize that an important part of growing up came in accepting disappointments and tragedies without whimpering.

Most readers of the Little House books have become Laura Ingalls Wilder fans. They truly like the tomboy she portrayed herself to have been. They admire the courage she showed when things went wrong. As a result, many readers have wanted to distinguish the truth in these volumes from the fiction. They have wondered what Laura was really like, whether she really did have all the experiences she described. Many have even traveled to Pepin (Wisconsin), Independence (Kansas), Walnut Grove (Minnesota) and DeSmet (South Dakota), looking for traces of the little houses where she lived. Some of Laura’s fans have been almost as persistent as those of Sherlock Holmes. Laura’s fans—past, present and future—will be glad, therefore, to know of the new biography about her.

Mr. Zochert has done a remarkable amount of research. He studied Laura’s original handwritten notes and manuscripts. He compared available first drafts with the final texts of published books to discover how much they had been edited. He traced clues to be found among her papers, to learn about the people Laura described in her books. He visited the places where she had lived, studied town records and census reports to trace her friends and acquaintances and to learn their real names and destinies. Thus this biography is fully documented and researched. Yet it is smoothly and simply told and reads easily, like one of Laura’s own stories. Appendices give the chronology of events in Laura’s life, the history of the Little House books and information on how to locate the sites of the little houses themselves. Only the farm house in Mansfield (Missouri), where Laura and Almanzo moved in 1894, still stands—open in season to the public. The locations of the other "Little Houses" are now marked by historical plaques.

Laura’s biography reveals, even more vividly than do her children’s books, the hardships of pioneering. Biographer Zochert reports on thevery discouraging "lost year," edited out of the Little House series, when the Ingalls family, driven from their home on Plum Creek by plagues of grasshoppers two years in a row, retreated eastward and worked at various town jobs. The major part of this biography deals with the years Laura herself wrote about in her children’s stories. However, the biographer goes beyond those early years. He carries her life, beyond her first four eventful years of marriage to Almanzo, to their move to Missouri2 and their long life together on their farm and apple orchard.

Donald Zochert’s biography is a worthy tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder and the many other sturdy pioneers who settled and helped to civilize the vast open spaces of our middle west. Anyone who has read the Little House series will be fascinated. Readers who meet Laura here for the first time will undoub tedly want to read the Little House series themselves and to introduce these children’s books to their favorite young people.

 

1 A ninth volume, published since Mrs. Wilder’s death, is now included in the "Little House" series. They are all available, in both cloth and paperback editions, from Harper and Row. The titles of the nine volumes are: (1) Little House in the Big Woods. (2) Little House on the Prairie. (³) Farmer Boy, (4) On the Banks of Plum Creek. (5) By the Shores of Silver Lake. (6) The Long Winter. (7) Little Town on the Prairie. (8) These Happy Golden Years. and (9) The First Four Years.

2 Described in On the Way Home. published by Harper and Row in ¹962. with an introduction by Laura’s daughter. Rose Wilder Lane.

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September 1976

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