20.12.07

FIFTIES NOSTALGIA TO THE RIGHT OF ME. I suspect that Robert Kuttner might have had Patrick Buchanan's Day of Reckoning in mind in his anticipation of the "know-nothings" gaining influence as globalization imposes adjustment costs on low-skill workers in a country with a comparative advantage in skill-intensive industries. (There's method in my madness, putting Mr Kuttner at Book Review No. 34 to set up Mr Buchanan for Book Review No. 35. ) I'll leave the trashing of the know-nothingisms to Ben Johnson, writing for Front Page, on the premise that the true believers can do a better job of policing their ranks. The Puritan in me finds amusement in the proudly Catholic, brawlingly Irish Mr Buchanan grumbling about the unassimilable habits of today's immigrants; the Volhynian draft resister in me cringes at his proposals to deny entry to today's equivalent of the mom with seven children in tow and five bucks in her pocket shipping out in steerage. (Clearly Mr Buchanan hasn't taken the time to read and understand my work, in collaboration with Eli Katz, on the optimality of immigration amnesties. Another paper in press! Yessss!!)

That noted, Mr Buchanan presents some of the same elements of nostalgia for the administered oligopolies of the 1950s and 1960s that Mr Kuttner misses, such as unionized blue-collar jobs, monopoly rents divided among shareholders, union members, and the tax collector, and no annoying hedge-fund managers who couldn't make a clean hole with a bit-and-brace looking for undervalued assets to strip, and no former peasants in exotic countries willing to do a better job bolting a car together for less money. And he persists in claiming that infant-industry protectionism made industrial development possible. Brink Lindsey illuminates the post-hoc nature of that argument.

Some of Mr Buchanan's arguments about imperial overstretch are more persuasive. He's never been a fan of intervention in the internal affairs of Moslem countries, and one of his earlier works is A Republic, Not an Empire. He also suggests that U.S., and by extension, the Atlantic Alliance's policy toward Russia has been unnecessarily harsh. What if, he asks, Mikhail Gorbachev had offered at the 1986 Reykjavik summit, to disarm, terminate the Warsaw Pact, and devolve the Soviet Union into fifteen countries in exchange for a promise that the Atlantic Alliance not be expanded to include Poland or the Captive Nations? I'm not qualified to evaluate the offer. Yes, the United States has done relatively little for the Russians, who got rid of Communism on their own initiative. On the other hand, Poland and the Baltic States have permanent interests that transcend Communism: before Stalin there was Alexander I, before Alexander I there was Peter the Great, before Peter the Great ... (where's the Russian history collection when I need it?) Day of Reckoning's observations on international affairs might merit further discussion. The industrial and immigration policy parts are unlikely to change many minds.

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