Enter Stage Gabbing

Open society or closed mind?

By Steven Martinovich

(October 16, 2000) Without a doubt, the most dynamic candidate largely isn't being heard this election year. When it comes to raising the temperature of a room, Al Gore, George W. Bush and even Ralph Nader don't come close to Reform Party nominee Pat Buchanan. For a man who has never held elective office, Buchanan continues to fascinate people even if he polls poorly -- a hair above zero per cent according to a recent CNN/USA Today commissioned poll -- and is ignored by the mainstream media.

Back on October 25, 1999, when he announced his departure from the Republican Party, his political career must have looked more promising than his previous failed bids for its nomination, so much so that he told reporters that all he needed was to appear in debates against Gore and Bush in order to win the White House.

"If you get into the debates in a free-wheeling forum with Mr. Gore -- who I think the country doesn't want but he's stronger than you think -- and Mr. Bush -- who is going to have a tough year -- and we're in three debates together, I think I can win the presidency," Buchanan said at the time.

As Lou Reed once sang, the difference between thought and expression is a lifetime. That $13 million the FEC awarded him as the winner of the Reform nomination hasn't translated into greater coverage and even the dour Nader enjoys more support from voters. As much as Buchanan would have made the election more interesting, I can't say that I mind his self-destruction. It was good for America and good for conservatism in general. It was also good for capitalism.

Buchanan's rants against international speculators, global trade agreements and the dropping of trade barriers, and what it means for the average American, remind one a lot of arguments that made more than five decades ago by philosopher Karl Popper. In his 1945 work, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper argued that capitalism was being portrayed as an ultimate truth -- much like Fascism or Communism, and that it was destroying the very fabric of society.

Popper's thesis was that capitalism has become a force, that like totalitarian ideologies, which believes it possesses an ultimate truth and destroys common interests. Unless capitalism was tempered by a recognition that a common good must take precedence over particular interests, the present socioeconomic order would break down.

For Buchanan, those common interests are Americans and their jobs and their enemies are the proponents of unrestrained capitalism. Although the United States is demonstrably richer now than at any time in history, even with Bill Clinton in office for nearly eight years, Buchanan believes the average person on the street has suffered economically.

"The bulls run wild on Wall Street, corporate profits boom, and CEOs ring up record salaries. But in Middle America, our industrial base is eroding, factories are closing, and manufacturing jobs are moving overseas. America's independence and her working men and women are being sacrificed on the altar of the Global Economy," Buchanan opined on March 2, 1999.

The problem with Buchanan's argument is that the alter of sacrifice doesn't exist. Although NAFTA -- one of his biggest pet peeves -- is hardly a perfect trade agreement, it hasn't harmed the American economy at all. In fact, trade between its three partners, Mexico, Canada and the United States, has exploded since 1993. Two-way trade between the U.S. and the other two countries has jumped by 44 per cent to $421 billion in 1996, compared to a 33 per cent jump in American trade with other countries. Since 1993, America's real gross domestic product has increased by 12 per cent while civilian employment has increased by 8 million -- of that 500 000 new jobs in manufacturing.

As for jobs and money moving abroad, Buchanan once again has it wrong. According to the Cato Institute, the passage of NAFTA has only increased investment in the United States:

"Total nonresidential fixed investment in the United States has risen by one-third since 1993, from $600 billion to an annual rate of more than $800 billion so far in 1997. Investment in the U.S. last year included $77 billion in direct foreign investment, making the United States the No. 1 destination in the world for foreign capital. In contrast, American direct investment in Mexico since the passage of NAFTA has averaged about $3 billion a year, or less than one-half of 1 percent of the capital invested in the United States during the same period," reported the institute.

Buchanan has a right to his beliefs -- as wrong as they are -- but he was right in October 1999, they don't have a home in the Republican Party and they aren't conservative. With his railing against the rich and the alleged evils of free trade, Buchanan personifies economic pessimism and is little more than a politician who plays the class warfare game. He may be a cultural conservative, whatever that means in 2000, but when it comes to economics he reminds one of another famous philosopher named Karl.

"Marx was right. Here, then, is the first cost of open-borders free trade. It exacerbates the divisions between capital and labor. It separates societies into contending classes, and deepens the division between rich and poor," said Buchanan during a speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in November 1998.

Well said Pat. Are you sure you joined the right party? The Republican Party certainly isn't home to anyone afraid of matching American economic might with the rest of the world.

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich


Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

web posted October 9, 2000

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