All Commentary
Tuesday, December 1, 1970

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1970/12


Very early in the nineteen six­ties Barry Goldwater, then an ob­scure Senator from the small (in population) far western state of Arizona, caught a significant turn in the feelings of the average American. As he puts it in his new book, The Conscience of a Majority (Prentice-Hall, $7.95), the people who were poor in New Deal days had, in the Eisenhower years, amassed enormous private savings and insurance and had “reached an all-time high in putting aside funds for their future life.” They were not ready as yet to repudiate the Welfare State, but they were getting uneasy about the many proposed extensions of it that threatened to erode the private in­surance dollar. And, in their ques­tioning mood, the people proceeded to make Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative a best-seller.

If history had gone in a straight line the new “conservatism,” which was in reality a resurgent classical liberalism, would have really made itself felt at the polls in 1964 when Barry Goldwater was the Repub­lican presidential candidate. But a malign fate intervened. Barry tells the story of his own hesitancies, which paralleled the hesitancies of the country, in a revealing early chapter of The Conscience of a Majority. He had looked forward to a zestful series of dialogues with President John F. Kennedy on the many issues that made them friend­ly enemies. When Kennedy was as­sassinated, however, Barry lost all heart for political campaigning. He accepted the nomination of his party out of a sense of duty to the young people who pressed it on him. But he knew that Lyndon Johnson would never debate funda­mentals with him, and he doubted that the country, which was still in a state of shock, was ready for a fight over basic philosophies. The result was a half-hearted campaign which the popular commentators on TV and in the press interpreted as the final death throes of the con­servative movement.

A New Consensus

How wrong those commentators were: in his story of the “revolt of the middle American” who car­ried on after the star-crossed 1964 defeat, Barry Goldwater shows how the old New Deal consensus broke down. The South, tired of being dragged along in the dirt by a northern and urban Democratic Party that cared only for its votes, lost its sense of shame in voting Republican. The “ethnics”—the poor of the northern cities who had come late to this country from Eu­rope—now had property, as often as not in the more affluent suburbs. The displacement of populations to the “sunbelt” states and to the Pa­cific Coast gave people scope on the land and a new sense of well-being. As Kevin Phillips phrased it, the old middle class had become en­larged into middle America.

A new consensus was in the mak­ing, and Richard Nixon made the most of it. He has not been as pure a man philosophically as Barry Goldwater, but, as a student of power, Nixon knows how much he had to give to the conservatives to maintain his popularity. Barry Goldwater is satisfied that the Nix­on victory in 1968 vindicated his own stand in 1964. He likes what Nixon is doing to wind down the war in Vietnam without welshing on our international commitments; he approves of Nixon’s feelings about inflation. This is not to say that Barry Goldwater is the man to give any occupant of the White House a blank check. But he is reasonably certain that the old trust in the “let the government do it” philosophy has had its day. Along with a sense of vindica­tion, Barry Goldwater has a feeling that he can now speak out on cer­tain subjects without being ac­cused of a sour-grape attitude. He hated what TV and the press did to him in 1964, when they portrayed him as a warmonger and an eco­nomic antediluvian, but, knowing that if he said anything he would be labeled a bad loser, he kept quiet about his grievances. It wasn’t un­til Spiro Agnew, an incumbent Vice-President and therefore a success, put TV and the big metro­politan newspapers in their place that Barry Goldwater felt inclined to take off his own wraps. The re­sult is some first-rate inside history of the “media” treatment of the 1964 campaign.

The Voluntary Way

Having paid his respects, mainly sarcastic, to the malfeasances and misfeasances of the “liberals” in 1964, Barry Goldwater turns to the “shape of the future.” He is just as much of a voluntarist as ever, and he is consistent about it in a way that displeases some of his brother conservatives. For exam­ple, he wants to let the eighteen-year-olds vote. Since he is against discrimination, he can’t see why the eighteen-year-olds should be discriminated against by being dis­qualified on election day. After all, eighteen-year-olders are liable for income taxes, they can be drafted, they can be made to stand trial as adults, and they can be imprisoned. If they can be taxed they should have representation, if the spirit of 1776 is to be honored.

As for the military draft, Gold­water is against it on moral grounds. The fundamental right of man, he says, is the right to life. Besides, it is wrong to assume that free men won’t fight if necessary for their country.

Goldwater is our most consistent Senatorial believer in limited gov­ernment, and he wants the state to stay out of production. The idea of “nationalizing” industries which do seventy-five per cent of their business with the Pentagon fills him with horror. But he believes the state does have the duty of pro­tecting its citizens, with the police at home and a strong military es­tablishment at the border. He de­fends the “military-industrial com­plex,” he doesn’t regret spending big money for a “sufficient” num­ber of missiles and for an ABM, he supports the purchase of mon­ster troop transport planes such as the C-5A, and he approves of a diplomacy designed to keep the communists from outflanking the free world at the traditional “hinges” in Southeast Asia, at Suez, and along the approaches to the Panama Canal. This is all con­sistent with Adam Smith’s idea that the provision of safety is a legitimate state function; it sepa­rates Barry Goldwater, the liber­tarian, from the anarchists.

The Quality of Life

Finally, Barry Goldwater is one of our most articulate conserva­tionists. One of his big issues in 1964 was the “quality of life.” Just as he was premature in raising the “crime in the streets” issue at the 1964 San Francisco convention, so he was ahead of his time in stress­ing the pollution issue. He is a real toughie on this, for he approves in­dictments of big corporations for dumping blast furnace wastes into Lake Michigan and for ruining Lake Erie. He believes in free en­terprise, but he also believes in the right of people to live in a clean environment. He likes Nixon be­cause the present Republican Ad­ministration is the first to prose­cute big pollution offenders.

In The Conscience of a Majority you get the whole Goldwater. The young ought to be for him, for he doesn’t object to their “doing their thing” provided it is with due re­gard for the rights of others. Gold­water likes the young in college; it is their instructors who get the full impact of his wrath for their “ir­responsible” teaching, which he thinks is the source of most of our troubles.

 

THE CHALLENGE OF WORLD POVERTY: A World Anti-Poverty Program in Outline by Gunnar Myrdal (New York: Pantheon Books, 1970, 518 pp., $8.95).

Reviewed by Henry Hazlitt

On few economists have more honors and praise been lavished than on Gunnar Myrdal. He has held high office in his native Sweden. He has been an official of the United Nations for ten years. Universities, especially in Amer­ica, have seemed to stumble over each other in heaping honorary degrees upon him. John Fischer of Harper’s calls him “the only man I can think of who has writ­ten two books capable of changing history.” Kenneth Boulding thinks he “may very well be the world’s top social scientist.”

He is surely prolific. The pres­ent book, running to more than 500 pages, seems bulky enough; but it is only a sort of appendix to his three-volume work, Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Pov­erty of Nations, which ran over 2,000 pages.

Yet in spite of a huge mass of factual reports, and some sound recommendations in special fields—on education in the underdevel­oped countries, for example—Myrdal’s latest book must be set down on net balance as a costly failure. In the economic field his recommendations are practically always in the direction of less freedom, more state intervention­ism, and more socialism. Their adoption could only increase and prolong world poverty.

An outstanding example is his repeated insistence on the neces­sity of radical “land reform” in the underdeveloped countries. What this would involve he never explicitly spells out. At one point (p. 111) he suggests that mem­bers of the “landless underclass” should be given “a small plot of land”; at another point (p. 261) he suggests “public ownership and management.” What he never explicitly mentions is that either would require confiscation of the land from those who now have it. Even if (improbably) the full market value were paid to previ­ous owners, this would mean im­posing a terrific burden of taxa­tion to pay for it—which would equally depress investment and production—in order to benefit an arbitrarily selected group of “the poor.”

And the results would be ex­actly the opposite of what Mr. Myrdal expects. The “reform” would greatly reduce agricultural production, not increase it. With all his masses of current “facts,” Mr. Myrdal never once mentions the actual results of the enormous number of “land reforms” in his­tory, even in the twentieth cen­tury—in Bolivia and Mexico, for example—where they led to a great decline in agricultural pro­duction and an increase in food imports, or in Soviet Russia, where farm collectivization brought on mass famine in which millions perished.

Mr. Myrdal insists that the underdeveloped countries should “help themselves,” but his notion of self-help is always more state socialism. His basic remedy for poverty is the ancient one of ig­noring property rights and seiz­ing from the rich to give to the poor—the “remedy” that always in the long run increases poverty. He explicitly repudiates the free market. The troubles of the poor countries have been “mainly the natural outcome of the market forces, which do not work for equality but tend to increase in­equality” (p. 283, his italics). He is constantly advocating govern­ment “planning”—price controls, interest-rate controls, import con­trols, and he does not hesitate to recommend that South Asian countries adopt more “legislation and regulations enforced by com­pulsion” (p. 216, his italics).

He is not only against the free market but specifically against free trade. In opposition to estab­lished classical theory and all his­toric experience, he argues that free trade between developed and underdeveloped countries actually hurts the underdeveloped coun­tries. Even technological advance in the developed countries, he ar­gues, hurts the underdeveloped countries. He even advises the underdeveloped countries to re­strict “the replacement of labor by machines” (p. 455, his italics). There is no space here to analyze the huge bundle of hoary economic fallacies that Mr. Myrdal is still able to embrace. He does not ex­plicitly attack capitalism, but every major proposal he makes is anticapitalistic. He demands huge­ly increased foreign aid, given without strings or conditions. But so far from wanting increased vol­untary private foreign investment, he deplores it, and implies that the seizures of American private property in Peru, or wherever, were thoroughly justified. He thinks (p. 487): “The United States should be prepared to tol­erate large-scale nationalization of American enterprises.” He as­sumes throughout that the rich are mainly to blame for the pov­erty of the poor. He blames the lack of sufficient “reforms” in the underdeveloped countries on the obstructive tactics of an “en­trenched upper-upper class” and of “reactionaries” in general. The latter seem to include almost everybody who disagrees with him.

The United States is Mr. Myrdal’s special villain. As a self-described “social scientist,” he never tires of comparing that “over rich country” unfavorably with his native Sweden. It seems we do nearly everything wrong, both at home and abroad, but our worst crime has been to try to defend South Vietnam from a communist takeover. To the “Vietnamese people,” Mr. Myrdal in­forms us, the war there is “a war of liberation, and more precisely a fight against military intrusion by a foreign, white, and rich na­tion” (p. 433, his italics)—mean­ing us.

Mr. Myrdal would probably re­sent it if we called his thinking Marxist. “Marxism,” he decides in a footnote, is not a scientific term. But he also boasts in the same footnote that, “from a study of how [Marx] worked, I rather be­lieve that in regard to Latin America he would have reached conclusions not very far from those” reached by Mr. Myrdal himself (p. 518). I shall not con­tradict him.

There are a few serious publish­ing defects. It is inexcusable, for example, that a book of 518 pages, crammed with factual references, should have no index.

 

***

The Right of Choice

Man must have the right of choice, even to choose wrong, if he shall ever learn to choose right. The child walks as we unwind the swaddling clothes; the building stands in its full beauty as we remove the scaffolding. Let us beware lest we make gods of the scaffolding; lest by making more intricate the wrappings of law, more strong the rods of coercion, man himself remain feeble and imperfect.

JOSIAH C. WEDGWOOD 


  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.