Freeman

ARTICLE

Asia, the Impotent Specter

SEPTEMBER 01, 1970 by HARRY LEE SMITH

Mr. Smith is a businessman in California.

North and South Vietnam com­bined are economically smaller than Greater San Diego. The economies of Laos and Cambodia together are no match for that of Newark. Switzerland has a gross national product greater than that of all Southeast Asia, which is about the same as that of Los Angeles.

Potential military might bears little relationship to national area or population. Of the many factors which might be considered, eco­nomic size best determines a na­tion’s ability to finance standing armies, to produce or purchase weapons, and to cross oceans. Without economic strength, espe­cially of the industrial variety, a nation is little threat to an enemy or aid to an ally.

All of Communist Asia is eco­nomically smaller than California and much smaller than industrialized Japan. All of Asia, exclusive of Japan, is economically no match for our Eastern Seaboard. Had Southeast Asia and Korea fallen to communism along with China in 1949, we doubtless would have written off the entire area to the enemy and changed our defense perimeter accordingly.

Of course, economic size is not the only measure of military men­ace. Cuba is economically slightly larger than North Vietnam; yet Havana’s proximity makes it a greater threat to our territorial integrity than is Hanoi. Because of its industrial base, Czechoslo­vakia may be a greater threat than is Indochina, though they are economic equals.

Our struggle with communism has one central deterrent: we must avoid World War III. While fighting in Vietnam, we are ef­fectively constrained from attack­ing Moscow whose concentration of military power is greater than that of all other communist areas combined. The satellite nations of Eastern Europe are economically larger than China, and more im­portant to communist power than is Asia, yet we can do nothing to help them militarily even when they struggle for freedom.

There is an outstanding excep­tion to the correlation between economic size and military poten­tial. It involves fighting on home ground rather than overseas. Tiny North Vietnam, even bolstered by foreign aid, is economically small­er than San Diego county; yet, the North Vietnamese have been able to hold American and South Vietnamese armies at bay for nine years. Of course, the American arsenal lacks the indispensable weapon of consensus. Neverthe­less, an army of half a million men supported by $30 billion in yearly expenditures, can only be termed leviathan by historical standards. Many thoughtful Amer­icans feel that this effort coupled with rising taxes, inflation, dis­sension, and 40,000 deaths, is ef­fectively draining us economically and emotionally of reserves which might be needed in some future more significant contingency. Others hope that this sacrifice will provide an ideological victory over communism.

The illiterate Asian peasant, earning $100 per year, is bewild­ered by the conflicting ideological and economic theories of Adam Smith and Karl Marx, neither of which is particularly applicable to his pastoral economy. His welfare is based on being left alone. Al­though he doubtless detests the cruelty of his brutalized brothers from the north, he is also con­fused and demoralized by an in­terminable war of liberation fought by French and American armies in his rice paddies.

The form of communism gen­erally embraced by primitive peo­ples differs from the industrial communism of Europe. The great ideological rift in the communist world is worth many military vic­tories in Asia. Russia has depart­ed from strict Marxist tenets to adopt state capitalism. The Chi­nese purists vehemently denounce this deviation. They, in turn, have adapted Marxism to a peasant economy as opposed to the prole­tariat. Indochina, by its very na­ture, would adopt peasant Marx­ism if converted, thus adding to the communist rift. Even under these circumstances, it is doubtful whether Southeast Asia would be­come closely allied with its tradi­tional enemy, China.

Communism is merely aggres­sive socialism. In the U.S.A., the socializing process has been in­tensified during the past forty years and has now erupted into carbuncles of hard-core revolution. Many well-armed nations have fallen through treachery, and this process may be more menacing to our future than is the communiz­ing of peasants thousands of miles away.

Nothing hastens the transition from capitalism to socialism more surely than does heavy taxation. It is immaterial whether these taxes are used for social welfare, for weapons, or for war. When we pay another nation’s bills or fight another nation’s war, the process helps to socialize the United States.

Asia, communist or otherwise, has overwhelming problems which effectively neutralize her impact on the twentieth century. When Russia builds an extra 100 mis­siles or ten more nuclear subma­rines, the balance of world power is more severely affected than by the ebb and flow of events in pas­toral Asia.

The paradox of militarism in a free society has plagued the world for centuries. Over 2,500 years ago, the Athenians were menaced from Asia. Yet, despite repeated attacks by the mighty Persians, the Athenians refused to enslave themselves militarily as did the Spartans. Instead, they resorted to special arming when necessary, as was the policy of the United States until recent years. Both Athens and the United States re­lied on their wealth and industrial might for security and refused to jeopardize this base through the. excessive taxation required for powerful standing armies. This calculated risk resulted in the greatest heritages of wealth, culture, and technology the world had known in each case. The Athenian victories at Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea, against incredible odds, would seem to vindicate a faith in the invincibility of the free individual human spirit.

It is in individualism that Amer­ica has always found strength and wisdom. Faith in God and self has been to our best interests. Removing a huge army and its equipment from a remote area can­not be accomplished overnight. But an understanding of the eco­nomic and political realities of Asia ought to help get the job done.

 

***

The Vital Secret

Not only foreign visitors, but many who have lived all their lives in the United States, observe the comparatively higher level of living here than in other countries and seek a reason why.

If we would share our material achievements and our industrial progress with those less fortunate than ourselves, either within the United States in so-called pockets of poverty, or in other countries, let us try to better understand the nature of self-re­spect, learn to practice it more faithfully and fruitfully, in due humility, so that others may choose to do the same. From true and humble self-respect stems respect for the property and the lives of others. Once a people understand the importance of life and property, and come to respect another’s as they respect their own, then they are in a position to organize a government of limited powers, knowing full well the limitations of coercive methods. And then, but not before, they are ready to practice freedom and enjoy such blessings of freedom as tools, machinery, electrification, auto­mation, and a high and rising level of living.

Perhaps, if this were the secret of American progress that we undertook to share with the rest of the world, we might come to understand it well enough to preserve our own freedom.

PAUL L. POIROT

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

September 1970

comments powered by Disqus

EMAIL UPDATES

* indicates required

CURRENT ISSUE

December 2014

Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
Download Free PDF

PAST ISSUES

SUBSCRIBE

RENEW YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

Essential Works from FEE

Economics in One Lesson (full text)

By HENRY HAZLITT

The full text of Hazlitt's famed primer on economic principles: read this first!


By FREDERIC BASTIAT

Frederic Bastiat's timeless defense of liberty for all. Once read and understood, nothing ever looks the same.


By F. A. HAYEK

There can be little doubt that man owes some of his greatest suc­cesses in the past to the fact that he has not been able to control so­cial life.


By JEFFREY A. TUCKER

Leonard Read took the lessons of entrepreneurship with him when he started his ideological venture.


By LEONARD E. READ

No one knows how to make a pencil: Leonard Read's classic (Audio, HTML, and PDF)