Chronicles does like to keep a good debate going. Samuel Francis’s bugle call (“A Banner With a Strange Device,” February 1994) for economic nationalism was another interesting alignment of Main Street conservatism with the dirigiste left. Come the Middle American political uprising, I’m still wondering, what sort of policymaking might we actually expect? Is your model France? Japan? India? America of the high-tariff era? Please provide a better road map.
I understand that your shopkeeper capitalism is distinct from the corporate variety. But isn’t it at odds with the entrepreneurial dynamic as well? Mr. Francis wants to protect the high-wage jobs of his fellow Americans. You can’t do that, in a static sense, without barring the mold-breakers who at least temporarily diminish the value of traditional output, and I doubt you could do that even if you wanted to. The Postal Service pays well, but its days as a dominant carrier are numbered—even with a legal monopoly—if you consider electronic transmission as a competitor. In the end, the only real countervailing force to capitalism (in whatever form we have it) is the state, and even with you as its curious ally, the state is losing.
Your nostalgia for a former America is one that many of your fellow citizens—though certainly not all—would share. But it’s likely to be preserved only in a museum. All living organisms change; the economic forces reshaping the world can be delayed, but with perverse effect. Correct as you may be in damning the destruction of the old, you cannot stop it. You can not stop it.
——Tim W. Ferguson
Wall Street Journal
Los Angeles, CA
The Editors Reply:
The real issue is the federal principle: the right and duty of nations to protect themselves against other nations and empires like the U.N. or the E.C.; the right of states to guard their interests against national and international governments; the right of families and individuals to mind their own business without interference from any government agency—in other words, an entirely decentralized political and economic order. The effect of NAFTA or E.C. regulations or U.N. treaties, unfortunately, is to suck all the decision-making power up to the top of the tree, away from the roots of all creativity: the individual, the family, the entrepreneurial firm, the local community.
Economic creativity is only a small part of what is at stake, because all the productive elements of society are being corrupted today—scholars and scientists, poets and painters, priests and soldiers. If we had to choose between two situations—a creative economy with a stagnant social, aesthetic, religious, intellectual order or a stagnant economy in which arts and letters flourished and people led decent lives—we would unquestionably choose the latter.
The trouble is, the choice is not that simple. Expanding economies are also cultural golden ages—fifth-century Athens, 12th-century Pisa, etc. But there is always a simple decision-rule: Does a measure or policy tend to promote the concentration of wealth and power at higher levels or does it tend to devolve it? In this regard, we have sympathized with progressive/populist attempts to control big business, just as we have always deplored their fantasy that such control could be exercised by the federal (or even state) government. For similar reasons, as much as we would like to contain the problems of unassimilated immigrants, we are opposed to identity cards, routine searches, and the English Language Amendment.
Ultimately, the rise and fall of civilizations is only partly determined by economic and political forces. Malaria seems to have destroyed Pisa, but laziness and dependency is the more usual disease. Mr. Jefferson and his friends foresaw all of this, hence his doctrine of periodic revolution as the only guarantee of republican government.