The First World and the Third World


The First World and the Third World, edited by Karl Brunner, Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Policy Center Publications. 1978. 272 pp. $9.95/$3.95.

I picked up The First World & The Third World fearful of coming away depressed. I had read dust-jacket remarks and several previously published reviews. The thrust of all these remarks was that the United States is a guilt-ridden weakling in the international corridors of the United Nations and its specialized agencies, that we have been browbeaten by Third World socialist ideology with its repeated assaults on liberty and the market economy, that the New International Economic Order (NIEO) has gained worldwide legitimacy (both at home and abroad), and that we increasingly face compulsion to distribute more and more taxpayers' dollars to the ruling elitesnot impoverished massesof the Third World.

Karl Brunner's opening remarks justified my worst fears. Brunner launches into a polemical assault on the Marxist-Leninist opponents of free societies and follows with an equally intense denunciation of the Western world's passive diplomatic response to the enemies of liberty. Villain number one is, needless to say, the US Department of State, whose interests lie not in defending the United States against foreign enemies but in nurturing goodwill among foreign and international bureaucracies.

Brunner forcefully rejects the appeals of the NIEO; instead, he calls for greater movement toward free trade, end of barriers to foreign investment, and the need for US spokesmen and policymakers to defend liberty. These measures, he says, will better serve the interests of Third World citizens than any forceful redistribution of Western resources to Third World governments.

What is the NIEO? Basically, it is a call for transfer of resources from Western nations to the governments of Third World countries. In justification the following arguments are offered: that the West is responsible for Third World poverty, that official wealth transfers are required as restitution for past wrongs and to reduce economic inequality, and that unless its demands are met the Third World would resort to force. Apart from Ambassador (now Senator) Moynihan's defense of America and denunciation of totalitarian and socialist regimes in the United Nations (but as P.T. Bauer points out, a weak statement at best), the United States is the whipping boy of Third World and home-grown socialist ideologues.

Now you see the source of my fears? Maybe we abolish the United Nations? Let's declare an intellectual war against the Third World and the NIEO! Or should I refuse on principle to pay my share of income taxes that is consigned to the menacing United Nations?

The truth is that my fears have been for naught. As Rachel McCulloch indicates, in the book's most illuminating essay, the United Nations and its haranguing Third World ideologues are virtually without power.

First, the resolutions of the General Assembly are not binding on the member states or their citizens. "The developed nations, and particularly the United States, have responded to the automatic developing-country majority by deflecting substantial decisionmaking to such preferred forums as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in which members vote money, i.e., votes are proportional to financial commitments." These two agencies—the most important of the 14 specialist agencies in terms of resourceshave avoided the policy paralysis characteristic of the General Assembly.

Second, proposals to establish world commodity cartels have been adamantly opposed by the United States. Western states have also remained cool toward proposals for buffer-stock arrangements.

Third, despite demands for large resource transfers from the West to Third World leaders, the trend in developed countries over the past few years has been in the opposite direction. Between 1960 and 1975, American official developmental assistance fell from .53 percent of GNP to .20 percent. Reductions also occurred in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The failure of friendships to flow from past assistance makes it most unlikely that this falling trend will be reversed.

So, the drive for a New International Economic Order under Third World orchestration is utterly without enforcement powers.

I sleep better now, no longer fearful of the United Nations, the NIEO, or the threats of the Third World. I would remind Brunner and his collaborators that talk is cheap; it may be more productive to watch what people do, not what people say. From McCulloch's evidence, it appears that the bombastic rhetoric of Third World and Western Marxist intellectuals is falling on increasingly deaf ears.

Alvin Rabushka is an economist who specializes in the study of free-trade zones.