Thinking About America: The United States in the 1990s, edited by Annelise Anderson and Dennis L. Bark, Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 590 pages, $24.95/$14.95
Ever since the Heritage Foundation's media splash with its Mandate for Leadership in 1981, public policy organizations have been issuing books of policy advice at the beginning of each new presidential term. Heritage's proposals for the incoming Reagan administration were trumpeted on the front pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post. The quality of the ideas mattered less than journalists' notion that Ronald Reagan and his team would be listening closely to the advice of the premier conservative think tank.
By 1985 Heritage had many imitators, and with a new president there are even more this year. Heritage is back again, with its 927-page Mandate III. One of Heritage's heftier rivals is Thinking About America from the Hoover Institution. It is more readable than its Heritage Foundation counterpart, which reads like a stack of policy option papers from the bureaucracy bound together. Still, the Hoover book has 47 essays of widely varying quality.
One of the best is Thomas Sowell's revealing article on racial preference policies around the world—policies designed to help Maoris in New Zealand, Malays in Malaysia, Lulua in Zaire, and a host of other groups, some minorities and some not. Sowell finds that a common result of these policies is that "the less fortunate members of designated beneficiary groups have often not only failed to share proportionally in benefits but have actually retrogressed during the era of preference." Other consequences have included racial polarization, hostility, violence, and fraudulent identification as members of preferred groups—"both in Indonesia and Malaysia, the term 'Ali-Baba enterprises' has been coined to describe the widespread practice of having an indigenous 'front man' (Ali) for a business that is in fact owned and operated by a Chinese (Baba)."
Milton and Rose Friedman argue that "a major change in social and economic policy is preceded by a shift in the climate of intellectual opinion. One reason for this is that "it takes intellectual independence and courage to start a counter-current to dominant opinion," so the best and brightest of a new generation tend to seek out new ideas. The Friedmans see three recent intellectual tides: the rise of laissez-faire, the rise of the welfare state, and the resurgence of free markets. In each case the intellectual tide preceded policy changes by several decades. They tell us that nothing in human affairs is inevitable but that they expect the free-market wave to continue for another generation or more. But they conclude by reminding us that the "very success [of the waves of change] tends to create conditions that may ultimately reverse them." Is there a lesson from history for those who would stave off a reversal of the current free-market tide? They don't say.
Several of the essays on economic policy in Thinking About America are quite good: James Buchanan on the need for constitutional restraints on government's economic activities; Nathan Rosenberg on technological change under capitalism and socialism (mostly under the former); Thomas Gale Moore on the threat of reregulation; Edward R Lazear on government intervention in labor markets; and D. Gale Johnson on world agriculture markets. However, the book is not a free-market manifesto. The essay on education by Gerald A. Dorfman and Paul R. Hanna denounces vouchers for creating "confusion and rivalry in the content of schooling." Charles E. McLure, Jr., discusses how to "raise substantially more federal revenue," though his chapter is immediately followed by Robert E. Hall and Alvin Rabushka's call for further tax reform—simplification, lower rates, and base-broadening.
One area where the authors disagree is foreign aid. Ronald Reagan calls for more of it. So does Caspar Weinberger, while Charles Wolf, Jr., D. Gale Johnson, and Peter Duignan and L.H. Gann are willing to countenance it in some circumstances. But Johnson demonstrates that even food aid can make a country poorer in the long run, and Melvyn Krauss argues that "food aid helps bad governments do bad things to their own people" as well as damaging local agriculture.
In the face of a federal budget crisis and an apparent opportunity for real progress on U.S.-Soviet relations, this volume displays little new thinking in the field of defense and foreign policy. Several authors, notably William R. Van Cleave and Richard F. Staar, denounce arms control efforts. Edward Teller warns that "the year 2000 may mark the founding of a Soviet world empire," while Staar fears that an impending Soviet front on the southern border of the United States means that "the U.S. role in the world will end."
The authors display a knee-jerk commitment to U.S. participation in NATO and manage to avoid ever mentioning that NATO costs American taxpayers $120 billion a year. Dennis L. Bark denounces critics of NATO as "political relativists who neither respect the values of Western civilization nor possess the wisdom to defend them"—which would probably come as a shock to Robert Taft and his supporters in the 1940s or to NATO's conservative and libertarian critics today.
A number of the essays nobly call for a reversal of the trend toward trade protectionism. Krauss says "trade, not aid, is the way to defeat the communists in the Third World." Robert Wesson calls for extending the U.S.-Canada free trade area to Mexico and all of Latin America. Richard V. Allen urges a free trade area with Taiwan and South Korea; he pointedly and unfortunately excludes Japan.
The Hoover Institution presumably hopes that the inclusion of political celebrities in this volume will produce more sales than insights. Gerald R. Ford may have written his own essay, which contains such timeless gems as "the past is indeed prologue," "the challenges to American policy…are as numberless as the sands of the seashore," "like the weather, everybody worries about [the economy] but nobody does much about it," and "I have walked too many miles in their shoes." Jimmy Carter is still learning about the future from daughter Amy, whose success at an electronic game taught him that young people understand computers better than old folks. Carter boasts about his administration's doom-saying Global 2000 report, lamenting that it was ignored in Washington. But earlier in the volume Johnson calls the report's predictions on food prices "outrageously inaccurate" and already disproven. Asked to write about urban policy, Andrew Young delivers an Atlanta booster speech. Whatever criticisms one might make of this volume, it's better than you might think of a book that opens with an essay by the crafty Richard Nixon and closes with one by the analytical Ronald Reagan.
This book illustrates a common problem with contemporary conservative thought: support for an active and interventionist American government in the world dulls the conservative critique of big government at home. It's hard to think of the same entity as both the adversary of freedom and its only defender. Interventionism is leading conservatives, in Washington and apparently at the Hoover Institution, to make their peace with Leviathan.
David Boaz is vice president for public policy affairs at the Cato Institute and coeditor with Edward H. Crane of An American Vision: Policies for the '90s.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Making Peace with Leviathan".