Each Labor Day brings the usual editorials on the concerns of organized labor and the threats of globalization of world markets, and this one was no exception. David Broder currently laments the “wasting of the manufacturing sector”, and suggests it is a problem far too important to be ignored by the political class in pursuit of “some economic theory”, namely, that of free trade. The classic was the line in the communiqué issued by The Berlin Conference three years ago, that globalization “should not just be allowed to happen”. When I see this kind of nonsense, I often turn to Peter Drucker and his The New Realities for a refresher. Here are some excerpts: “the transnational economy is shaped mainly by money (capital investment) rather than by trade in goods and services……in which the traditional factors of production, land and labor, increasingly become secondary”; “manufacturing is becoming uncoupled from labor”; and the new economic policy “implies increasingly neither free trade nor protectionism, but reciprocity between regions”. In this environment, he submits, management is the decisive factor of production on which competitive position must be based. Clearly, in the world of Drucker’s realities, no sovereign political power, with its top-down, command-and-control compliance mandates, can dictate the investment flows that drive economic success. The challenge for us “haves” in the West is to lead the rest of the world into a system in which all the world’s “have nots” can gain access to the dynamics of free trade and open markets.
In November 2001 I wrote: “The ultimate outcome [of the war on terror] will be transformational, for I believe there is no way to avoid the massive restructuring of the Muslim world that will follow (and parallel) this conflict. The ruling elites in these societies, friend and foe alike, must choose which future they want, and the status quo ante is not acceptable for us or for them. In too many instances in the past, U. S. foreign policy has supported stability as the ultimate objective, where revolution would have been preferable. Might this mean transitional occupation in some instances? Possibly. A return to some semblance of colonialism, as some have suggested? Maybe. After all, we’re dealing with a region with no core nation-state leadership, and societies that did not have a Magna Carta, a Reformation, a Counter-Reformation, or an Enlightenment. True, these are the unique experiences of the West, but they produced the universal values of successful civilization that most of the world is struggling to emulate in their own way.”
This was written shortly after the “wake up” call of 9-11, and I submit that it is appropriate to repeat because the Jerusalem bus bombing and UN bombing of August 18 and 19 and the bombing of the Baghdad mosque of August 28 were just as significant as wake-ups in many ways. Clearly, we are not yet mentally and emotionally prepared for the level of moral, financial, and military commitment that will be necessary to win the long-term war on terrorism. There are serious choices to be made, and we haven’t come to grips with the fact that this war will possibly be as long and certainly as significant as the Cold War and, as former CIA Director James Woolsey has reminded us, for example, we are nowhere near the commitment to defense spending in terms of percentage of GDP of either the Truman or Kennedy Administrations.
There is no doubt that the full story in Iraq is not being told—things are not as bad as they are being portrayed. For one thing, as Tom Friedman has noted, we are attracting enemies from all sides in Iraq because they know that this war is the Big One, as he calls it. They know it is not about oil or U. S. corporate greed or empire or crazed neoconservative ideologues, it’s about universal values and ideas such as the rule of law, and it is a fight to the death for their culture of death that our side is slowly but surely winning, and must win. There is also no doubt that President Bush needs to do a better job of explaining all of this to the American people because others not so well disposed to our mission are explaining it for him, and, politically, time is not on his side.
The lulls of the summer just past allowed some time for reading and reflecting, and three books in particular are worthy of review:
The American Republic, by Orestes A. Brownson. Originally published in 1865, when the nation had just weathered its most serious challenge to its continued existence, Brownson provides a timely (for now as well as then) exposition on the nature, authority, origin, and constitution of the American state in light of the challenges posed by secession and reconstruction. His most penetrating concept is that of the origin of republican government through the “providential” constitution of the people. It is a powerful statement of American exceptionalism and rivals Alexis de Tocqueville’s work as the best analysis of American-style democracy.
Natural Rights and the Right to Choose, by Hadley Arkes. Of all the rhetoric in the pro-life/pro-choice debates, this is the best presentation I have read of the grounding of the anti-abortion movement in the doctrines of “natural rights” that formed the main teaching of the American Founders and Abraham Lincoln and how the political class has, over the past thirty years, convinced itself to leave these principles, and their grounds, behind. A must for anyone concerned with a moral defense for either side of the abortion debate.
Terror and Liberalism, by Paul Berman. It has been described as “the first philosophical and political guide to the era that began on September 11, 2001.” Berman is a political liberal who traces the war on terrorism to its origins in the modern impulse to rebel that came from the spiritual inspiration of the French Revolution and mutated through the 19th century into the suicide and murder cults that informed the totalitarian movements of the 20th century. He relies on many historical sources, the most chilling of whom is the Islamist scholar Sayyid Outb, and he is equally condemning of the foreign policy “realism” of the political right as of the naïveté of the political left in the West’s response to the malignancy.
It’s election season in Houston and, with apologies to readers who do not have a direct stake in the upcoming city election (although I submit that all Texans and many other Americans have a stake in a prosperous Houston!), here are some thoughts I have suggested to the candidates I am supporting:
· The future belongs to those regions that are attractive to capital and where it is well-treated, so those attributes that make Houston attractive to capital should be emphasized, particularly those that are friendly to the spirit of enterprise.
· A large part of Houston’s image and attraction is that there is not a “price of entry” in terms of class, origin, race, or family wealth. As a Wall Street Journal editorial has noted, it is a place where people come from all over the world to pursue whatever version of the American dream they bring with them. This should be celebrated and encouraged; Houston doesn’t need an “image” campaign or consultants.
· The messages we send mean a lot. Houston can continue to be the “Hong Kong of the Western Hemisphere” if it avoids the tendency to embrace “progressive” ideas like zoning and its cousins, land use planning and “smart growth” theories, publicly financed stadiums and hotels, and transit plans that are not sufficiently user financed.
· It will be of increasing importance to take a critical look at the role and proper functions of government at every level and be receptive to privatization (preferably “marketization”) opportunities wherever they present themselves. The competition for capital will demand this.
· Contract set asides and group preferences, whether to correct perceived past injustice or promote “diversity”, have a negative impact on racial and ethnic relations.
· The Greater Houston Partnership has studied regional governance and the concept of “urban federalism”, which needs political leadership to come to fruition. This is a high risk area, but someone should pursue it, and a Houston Mayor is the likely candidate.
· The number one priority for Houston should be a model elementary and secondary education system and this will not be possible until the dynamics of competition are fully integrated into education delivery. The City’s political leadership has a role to play in advancing public education excellence, and it should begin with a declaration of war on childhood illiteracy.
Come to think of it, the ideas that underlie these thoughts are pretty good ones for almost any city or region—for instance, California immediately comes to mind.
A note on admirable policy leadership: My friend and publishing mentor Sen. John Andrews of Colorado will be co-sponsoring legislation led by Gov. Bill Owens to ban race-based college admissions in that state. Congratulations and best wishes. We need one of these in Texas. I wonder who has the courage for such leadership?