“Globalization”—when did it become a central tenet of conservatism? According to Deputy Secretary of State John C. Whitehead, it was in the New Deal era that the US “rejected isolationism and economic nationalism” in favor of the “globalization of our daily lives.” The text of Whitehead’s address to the September meeting of the Economic Policy Council of the United Nations Association was given wide circulation in December as a State Department policy paper on “Global Economic Integration.” In his remarks, Whitehead praised “the distinguished men who shaped our international economic policy in the 1940s—people like Cordell Hull, Harry White, William Clayton and George Marshall.”
The Reagan administration has spent a great deal of effort on behalf of global interdependence. That the President and his neoconservative foreign policy advisors drew their inspiration from Franklin D. Roosevelt is no secret. Mr. Reagan has said that he became a partisan of “free trade” in the 1932 election campaign, when FDR accused the Republicans of “causing” the Great Depression by adopting the Smoot-Hawley Tariff. Curiously, FDR’s Smoot-Hawley myth has become a standard line for Reagan administration globalists, and Whitehead dutifully used it. That it has no grounding in fact or logic, that it was merely a charge in a negative campaign that made the Willie Horton issue look like the high road, has not stopped its endless repetition.
Smoot-Hawley went into effect in 1931, well after the Depression had started (the stock market had collapsed back in 1929). Its focus was agriculture, which had been depressed throughout the 1920’s. The minor changes made in industrial policy were of no consequence. As America’s foremost tariff expert Frank Taussig wrote at the time, “The new duties on manufactured goods were mostly of a petty sort. . . . On the important branches of these industries the protective system had already been carried so far that no considerable further displacement of imports could be expected.” The historical truth is that the US had always used protective tariffs and had become the world’s most powerful economy running perennial trade surpluses. Trade policy did not eliminate the business cycle—nothing can do that—but it did not cause it, either. It was the collapse of the banking system, not trade, that made the Depression so devastating.
It is disturbing when conservatives cannot come up with anything better than a half-century old Democratic campaign slogan to guide policy—especially when the country is in the midst of a techno-industrial trade war that will affect the worldwide distribution of production capacity well into the 21st century, with all that means for the international balance of wealth and power. But it is not the only disturbing element in Whitehead’s talk, for among the “distinguished” men the deputy secretary mentioned was the traitor Harry White.
Better known by his full name, Harry Dexter White had taught international economics at Harvard before becoming an assistant secretary of the Treasury. He was the father of the World Bank and became director of the International Monetary Fund in 1946. He was also a Soviet agent who, according to his wife, saw himself as a “revolutionary.” He was part of the same Soviet network that included Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers. When Chambers quit the Communist spy ring, he went to White in an attempt to convince him also to quit, but, like Hiss, White rejected Chambers’ plea.
Testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee, White denied that he had ever met Chambers. But Chambers still had in his possession a handwritten memo of intelligence information that White had given to Chambers for delivery to the Soviets. Chambers left the spy ring in 1938, but another courier, Elizabeth Bentley, who did not leave the ring until after World War II, testified that White continued to pass secrets to Moscow. White died of a heart attack during the subsequent investigations. As stated in Allen Weinstein’s authoritative study, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case, “White not only passed confidential data but also helped place influential Communists in sensitive positions within Treasury.” White was not just an espionage agent, but also an agent of influence attempting to move policy in directions that advanced his own peculiar notions of progress rather than the national interests of the United States.
Why would a high State Department official praise a Soviet spy? Did Whitehead feel that since his UN Association audience was composed of self-styled “citizens of the world,” resurrecting a traitor would impress them? Or was this just a gaffe resulting from historical ignorance, displayed not only by the deputy secretary but also by the State Dept. bureaucracy that cleared this particular speech for wider distribution?
We see now that our opening question “when did ‘globalization’ become a tenet of conservatism” is a trick question. From its intellectual lineage, it is clear that it has never been a tenet of any philosophy properly called conservative. Its sudden popularity testifies to the low state of historical understanding within the conservative movement.