Tilting At The Free Trade Dragon


How American Sovereignty and Social Justice

Are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy

By Patrick J. Buchanan

Little, Brown 320pp $22.95

I was having lunch with author and Canadian political activist Maude Barlow, listening to her explain why Canadians must be protected from foreign news media by content quotas and investment controls on magazines, television, and books. "Canadian journalists are best able to interpret the news for Canadians," she insisted, adding: "Of course, I'm no Pat Buchanan, either."

But guess what--Patrick J. Buchanan agrees with her views. "If Canada wishes to retain her cultural identity and restrict the flood of U.S. magazines, TV shows, and films, why are Canadians wrong?" asks the TV pundit and two-time contender for the GOP Presidential nomination in The Great Betrayal: How American Sovereignty and Social Justice Are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy.

In fact, Barlow and much of the U.S. public may be closer to embracing Buchanan-omics than most of them realize. As international trade has grown during the 1980s and '90s to dominate much of the U.S. economy, it has done a lot of good. But so too has it brought out the bad--wage stagnation, drug trafficking, environmental degradation, sweatshop and child labor. And it has been the negative effects that have been in the news. Now, Buchanan, largely ignoring the good that trade also accomplishes, makes the case for recognizing another of trade's deleterious effects: the loss of national political control that comes with globalization and free trade pacts. Here Buchanan resides amid an odd but ever-growing league of nationalists across the political spectrum that includes Barlow, Ralph Nader, General Suharto, and Mexican corn growers.

Buchanan's best argument is this: Economic policy--"enlightened nationalism"--ought to benefit a nation and its people, not some one-world ideal found nowhere outside economic textbooks. "The economy is not the country; the country comes first," he says. But that's changing rapidly, he notes. In Washington, instead of patriots, Buchanan finds international trade policymakers who serve the interests of rootless "transnationals" such as Boeing, ConAgra, and Motorola. These giants are heartlessly abandoning America for "a Darwinian world of the borderless economy, where sentiment is folly and the fittest alone survive. In the eyes of this... elite, men and women are not family, friends, neighbors, fellow citizens, but `consumers' and `factors of production,"' he laments.

Standing in contrast, Buchanan says, are such Americans as Roger Milliken, founder of textile company Milliken & Co., and Aaron Feuerstein, CEO of Malden Industries Inc. When textile plants of each company burned down in Georgia and Massachusetts, respectively, workers were kept on the payroll and plants rebuilt. That made them "conservatives of the heart."

Buchanan hasn't always been so tenderhearted, of course. As a speechwriter in the Reagan White House, he once happily prepared a veto message for a textile-protection bill sought by Milliken. Moreover, when he has exhibited passion in the past, it has been to defend accused Nazi war criminals, criticize immigration, and attack liberals, homosexuals, feminists, Democrats, and Israel. As a result, he has been widely accused of anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and homophobia.

The Great Betrayal provides Buchanan another opportunity to flail wildly at the reactionary gong with such statements as this: Globalization is causing allegiances to shift "from nation to ethnocentrism," leading to segregated student dorms, ethnic anger, and Shiite militias, while impelling a breakup of Canada, Britain, and Italy.

Unfortunately, these sorts of dire warnings often overshadow Buchanan's legitimate and worrisome message that U.S. citizens are losing control of their economy. He also errs by giving too much credence to the supposed benefit of high tariffs in U.S. history. As a proud protectionist, Buchanan places himself among Presidents Washington, Lincoln, McKinley, and Teddy Roosevelt. "Protectionism, then, is not some alien dogma," writes Buchanan. "It is America's own invention, the defense perimeter of the world's greatest free-trade zone, an integral element of the American free-market system, and an indispensable contribution to national prosperity." Certainly, tariffs helped nurture fledgling U.S. manufacturing. But even Adam Smith recognized the "infant industry" justification for tariffs.

So, naturally, Buchanan proposes higher tariffs--a phased-in 15% tariff on imports and a corresponding cut in income taxes. Other tariffs would be adjusted on a country-by-country basis to equalize wage rates and currency fluctuations. Japan and China would be hit with special tariffs in retaliation for their unfair-trade practices. But Buchanan fails to address the result to the world economy if others followed suit. Nor does he recognize the consumer to be as important as the producer of goods, or that higher standards of living due to lower consumer prices are also an outcome of trade. Besides, what if Canadians prefer watching 60 Minutes or Jerry Springer to the somnambulant Canadian Broadcasting Corp.? Shouldn't they be allowed?

Buchanan may find himself carrying The Great Betrayal as his campaign manifesto in 2000. If so, he'd better be prepared to answer a lot of questions on trade economics.

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