Class 4: The Conservatives

The title of tonight's presentation is “The Conservatives.”

So we will tackle an entire hemisphere on the right side of our circular paradigm consisting of two quadrants: Conservative Integration on the top . and Conservative Separatism on the bottom.



These are shown on Exhibit 15.  Note that, within the Conservative Integrationist quadrant, I have distinguished between the “Libertarians” and the Alan Greenspan types, those whom I would term “Moderate Conservative Integrationists.” As you can see, Federal Reserve System Chairman Greenspan is right up there close to the line bisecting the Conservatives from Liberals, with one shoulder pressed against the line.

Let's put Mr. Greenspan and his moderates aside for the moment and get some unadulterated conservative integrationist thinking from a Libertarian stronghold. Here is James Bovard of the Cato Institute [at http//], talking about the immorality of protectionism:

Protectionism [says Bovard] produces political corruption, economic stagnation, and international conflict. Yet many people will insist that even though protectionism hinders a nation's ability to feed, clothe, and house itself, the moral gains from protectionism are greater than the losses. But what is the moral core of protectionism as it is practiced?

Every restriction on imports is an attempt by the U.S. government to compel some Americans to pay higher prices to other Americans than they otherwise would have paid. No consumer offers to voluntarily pay these higher prices: they pay higher prices only because 17,000 U.S. Customs agents leave them no choice. Henry George observed over a hundred years ago:

Protective tariffs are as much applications of force as are blockading squadrons, and their object is the same -- to prevent trade. The difference between the two is that blockading squadrons are a means whereby nations seek to prevent their enemies from trading; protective tariffs are a means whereby nations attempt to prevent their own people from trading.

And now let's hear from Alan Greenspan, a somewhat more moderate Conservative Integrationist:

During the past half-century, barriers to trade and to financial flows have generally come down, resulting in significant broadening of world markets.  Expanding markets, in turn, have enhanced competition and nurtured what Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction,” the continuous scrapping of old technologies to make way for the new. Standards of living rise because the depreciation and other cash flows of industries employing older, increasingly obsolescent, technologies are marshaled, along with new savings, to finance the production of capital assets that almost always embody cutting-edge technologies.  This is the process by which wealth is created incremental step by incremental step. It presupposes a continuous churning of an economy in which the new displaces the old . . . .

Rather than inhibiting international competition by those displaced by “creative destruction,” we should be directing our efforts at enhancing job skills and retraining workers, a process in which the private sector is already engaged.  If necessary, selected income maintenance programs can be employed for those over a certain age, where retraining is problematic.  Protectionism will only slow the inevitable transition of our workforce to more productive endeavors.  

What distinguishes Chairman Greenspan and the Moderate Conservative Integrationists from the Libertarians is Greenspan's somewhat lukewarm embrace of retraining and income insurance programs. Greenspan is careful to say that the private sector is engaged in the effort of enhancing job skills and retraining workers.  He is also careful to talk about selected income maintenance programs for those over a certain age. (Given the Chairman's rather long personal tenure at the Fed, I wonder what “certain age” he has in mind). 

That kind of approach - a sort of reluctant or minimalist approach to adjustment assistance makes the border between the Conservative Integrationists on the right and the Liberal Integrationists on the left seem rather fuzzy. Greenspan may have his shoulder against the Liberal line, but he also appears to be listing a bit to the right in his rhetoric.

Liberal Integrationists, on the other hand, often push for more safety nets and more government involvement while the conservatives argue for more private sector involvement and a smaller role for government. A dividing line is there, but it is not a sharp one.  


The Conservative Integrationist views, both Libertarian like those of the Cato Institute and moderate, like those of Chairman Greenspan, are usually accompanied by plenty of economic jargon.  And to boil this EconoSpeak down a bit, I think it is fair to say that most conservative integrationists live by 1.75 fundamental economic propositions, as follows:

• First, that free markets and free trade raise productivity, national wealth, and hence living standards (to which proposition I award a full mark of 1.0)

• Second, that nations engaging in international trade come out ahead on the basis of an economic theory called “comparative advantage” (I award only .75 or three-quarters of a mark to this proposition)

In general, the Liberal Integrationists - the guys in the quadrant to the immediate left of Greenspan -- also agree with these 1.75 precepts, but they add that it is critically important that nations engaging in international trade maintain effective safety nets in order to protect vulnerable populations from the volatility that often characterizes free markets and free international trade. And they want an active government to make sure that these safety nets work well and are not eroded by international competition. The Conservative Separatists, on the other hand, the fellows like Pat Buchanan at the bottom of the right-bottom quadrant, do not at all agree with the 1.75 precepts and they are generally silent, even totally mute, on the subject of safety nets.

What do I mean by .75  -- three-quarters -- of a precept?  Well, the point 75 represents a certain amount of erosion of the theory of comparative advantage, a concept that most of us who took Economic 101 or its equivalent have had trouble hanging on to over all these years. But we thought it was written in stone, a precept good for all time, when we learned it.

Unless you are very much younger than I am, it is likely that nobody has bothered to tell you about how comparative advantage is personified in Michael Jordan.

Michael is a very well coordinated fellow, and it is quite likely that he could do a faster and better job of mowing his own lawn than anyone he could hire to do it for him. But Michael does hire someone else, because he gets a lot more real and psychic income from improving his jump shots, pursuing his business interests and promoting his charities than he would from mowing his lawn.  So, when he hires someone to mow his lawn  - a task he actually could perform better than the guy he hires  -- there are benefits on two sides of the transaction.  His caretaker benefits because Michael pays him well for work he might not get elsewhere, And Michael benefits because he can do other important stuff.

What is true for Michael Jordan, so the theory of comparative advantage holds, is true for transactions among companies. And it is true for trade among countries.  Globaphobia, a book written by three Brookings Institution economists, emphasizes some important implications of the theory of comparative advantage [at p. 20-1]:

First, it necessarily implies that nations export in order to import. By definition, if nations specialize in what they are comparatively best at producing, they must import goods and services that other countries produce best. The notion that imports are “bad” while exports are “good” -- popular in the media and among politicians -- is long overdue for correction.

Second, trade is not a zero-sum game, which one nation wins at the expense of its competitors. Just as workers are mutually better off trading their labor for consumer goods and services produced by others, nations are mutually better off when firms and workers produce and trade the goods and services in which they enjoy a comparative advantage in exchange for goods and services that they can purchase more cheaply from others.  

The corollary to the proposition that trade makes overall production more efficient is that it makes goods and services cheaper for consumers.  As consumers, we are all better off if we can purchase food, clothing, and shelter at lower cost than if we had to produce each of these items ourselves.  In this way, trade raises the purchasing power of the incomes that we earn from work.

Consumers benefit not only because imported goods can be (and often are) cheaper than domestically produced counterparts, but also because the competition provided by imports, or the mere threat of imports, keeps domestic producers from charging excessive prices.  In addition, competition from imports encourages them to innovate and produce better products at lower cost.

The theory of comparative advantage was originally tied to the idea that nations have basic advantages in the factors of production, for example, by virtue of having land well suited to agriculture, deposits of important natural resources, skilled labor, or substantial financial resources for investment.  The theory held that, like Michael Jordan, a nation will concentrate its resources on those economic activities for which it has the highest comparative advantage. This means that it may import an item even if it could be a low cost producer itself because it is even more productive in other goods - just as Michael Jordan might hire someone to cut his lawn, despite the fact that Michael could cut it faster and better if he really wanted to.

However, the traditional theory of comparative advantage, the one I learned years ago has been somewhat eroded over that time. That is why I took comparative advantage down from a perfect 1.0 to a less-than- perfect .75 as an explanation of what is going on in the international economy.

Another man named Michael, Michael E. Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School, published in 1990 a book called The Competitive Advantage of Nations.  Following investigations in ten countries, Porter concluded that comparative advantage based on difference in factor costs plays some role in many industries, but that it does not fully describe the patterns of trade among nations. 

Porter says that the theory falls particularly short in accounting for patterns of trade applicable to industries and portions of industries involving sophisticated technology and highly trained employees. In the modern world such industries and such employees are particularly important for increasing national productivity. 



[This Exhibit, taken from Figure 3-1, “The Determinants of Change” on page 72 of The Competitive Advantage of Nations, is not reproduced here. The top of the diamond is “Firm Strategy, Structure, and Rivalry;” the bottom is “Related Supporting Industries.” On the left is “Factor Conditions.”  On the right is “Demand Conditions.”]

Exhibit 16 summarizes Porter's “national diamond” concept.  I am not going to walk you through this diagram in detail, but basically Porter believes that national competitive advantage arises from dynamic interactions among the four elements of the diamond, only one of which represents factor conditions, the traditional source of comparative advantage.

One of Porter's most striking findings is that national competitive advantage arises from the prevalence of several rivals in the industries within a given nation. Porter concludes that such rivalry has a direct role in stimulating improvement and innovation. 

Porter also emphasizes that technology has given firms the power to circumvent scarce factors of production and reduce labor costs by adopting new products and processes.  This power of circumventing factor costs shakes up all sorts of conventional practices, theories, and stereotypes. For example, instead of moving away from high-labor-cost markets (a standard mental picture of what capitalists do when they get a chance) some companies have moved facilities closer in order to be able to serve these good markets effectively and take advantage of the good market provided by their purchasing power. Industries can do this because technology has cut their labor and materials costs, and they can make more money by making use of proximity. By moving close to high labor-cost markets, they gain skilled labor and access to the higher purchasing power present in those markets. They create more customer satisfaction. They increase sales and register more profits.

Porter says that firms derive competitive advantage either from selling a good product at the lowest price or differentiating products in terms of product quality, special features, or after-sale service (a higher priced strategy particularly suitable to affluent or discriminating customers). Competitive advantage of either type translates into higher productivity. 

Up to a point, globalization of industries decouples the firm from the factor endowment of a single nation. However, while many factors are increasingly mobile, trade persists and indeed grows -- principally between industrialized nations with similar factor endowments, it is also true that the ascendant firm derives its worldwide strategy and roots its corporate culture deeply in the values of its home country. In this sense, Porter concludes, most multinational firms are not truly multinational.

Developing countries are frequently trapped by trade patterns that depend on factor endowments such as low wages or mineral deposits because they lack practical strategies for the escaping low cost competition with each other. Low wage and extractive industries are inevitably sensitive to exchange rate and factor cost swings. Demand for the products of many of these basic industries simply is not growing, as the resource intensity of advanced economies declines through technological improvement and as demand in these advanced countries becomes more sophisticated and oriented toward services. 

This conclusion by Porter fits in with the findings of Dani Rodrik, a Harvard economist who has studied labor standards in developing countries. Rodrik concludes that the portion of labor costs represented by worker protections and social entitlements can have a significant competitive impact on the exports of countries at the bottom of the development scale. Interestingly, he found that developing countries with low labor standards actually receive less foreign direct investment than do developing countries with higher labor standards. [Has Globalization Gone too Far?, p. 46]  He surmises that low labor costs based on poor labor standards lead to outsourcing and subcontracting from foreign firms, rather than to majority-owned foreign investment.

So here we have two different qualifications to the raw concept of comparative advantage - and they seem pretty much consistent with each other.  Porter is saying that the technically advanced, dynamic portion of the world economy has become less dependent on national factor endowments because technology and human beings with technical skills are mobile.  Rodrik, looking at the lower end of the world economy where factor endowments continue to matter, concludes that labor standards represent an important constituent in the factor cost of labor. Putting Porter and Rodrik together provides a picture of a trouble at the bottom, dynamic ascent at the top, and some transformation in the middle, as foreign investors demonstrate their willingness to put direct investment in developing countries with relatively good labor standards.  This mixed picture does not, I would think, fit particularly well into any neat ideological box.

Well, so much for Dr. Porter and the limitations of comparative advantage. Now, on to the Conservative Separatists. First, let's listen to Pat Buchanan speaking before the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations:

. . .I am called by many names. “Protectionist is one of the nicer ones, but it is inexact. I am an economic nationalist.  To me, the country comes before the economy, exists for the people. I believe in free markets, but I do not worship them. In the proper hierarchy of things, it is the market that must be harnessed to work for man - - not the other way around.

As for the Global Economy, like the unicorn, it is a mythical beast that exists only in the imagination. In the real world, there are only national economies - Japan's that has lost its animal spirits. South Korea's that is deep in recession, China's which is headed for trouble, Brazil's which is failing, Indonesia and Russia's which are in collapse.

In these unique national economies, critical decisions are based on what is best for the nation.  Only in America do leaders sacrifice the interests of their own country on the altar of that golden calf, the Global Economy.

[Patrick Buchanan's Address to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, November 18, 1999,]

And here's Pat again, writing about President Bush's decision on limiting steel imports:

For Bush it was a moment of truth.  All the big-name economists, editorial writers, corporate lobbyists and think-tank scholars were demanding that he stand by “free trade.” But, like a Texas Ranger, the president decided to stand alone, beside the U.S. steelworkers whose numbers were few but whose cause was just.

It was a brave decision, and in taking it the president made a statement the Financial Times did not miss. “Bush's move marks the U.S. trade policy turning point,” read the headline. Indeed it does. For the president said with his decision that there are U.S. interests that supersede any and all claims of free trade.

This last is from an article posted on the Internet entitled “A Real Conservative” http//]

But if you think that Pat Buchanan, “ real conservative” himself, is afraid to quote Karl Marx favorably, think again. Here is the quotation. Karl Marx wrote:

. . . the free trade system works destructively. It breaks up old nationalities and carries antagonism of the proletariat and bourgeoisie to the undermost point. . . the Free trade system hastens the Social Revolution. In this revolutionary sense alone , , ,I am in favor of free trade.

Pat Buchanan says that Marx was right, that free trade separates societies into contending classes and deepens divisions between the rich and the poor. Economic and social elites, whose jobs and incomes are not adversely affected by imports or immigration do well, but the real income of middle Americans has fallen.

America has suffered a loss of independence and national sovereignty, says Pat Buchanan. While we ran trade surpluses every year from 1900 to 1970, he says, we have run trade deficits every year since.  Our total merchandise trade deficit since 1980 is in excess of $2 trillion. Americans no longer make our own cameras, shoes, radios, and toys.  Says Pat:

A fourth of our steel, a third of our autos, half of our machine tools, two-thirds of our textiles are foreign made. We used to be the world's greatest creditor nation. Now we are its greatest debtor.

Friends, this is a read-out of the electrocardiogram of a nation in decline. 

America, argues Buchanan, has placed itself in jeopardy of financial collapse caused by events beyond our control:

When Mexico, with an economy no larger than Illinois, threatened default in 1994, the U.S cobbled together a $50 billion bailout, lest Mexico's  default bring on what Michel Camdessus of the IMF called “global financial catastrophe.

When tiny Asian dominoes began to fall  . . .the IMF had to put together $117 billion in bailouts of Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea lest the Asian crisis bring down all of Latin America and the rest of the world with it.

In the Global Economy, the world is always just one default away from disaster. What in heaven's name does the vaunted Global Economy give us - besides all that made-in-China junk down at the mall  - - to justify having the U.S financial system at permanent risk of collapse - - if some incompetent foreign regime decides to walk on its debts?

Well, Pat Buchanan has a very straight-forward set of solutions to all of this. 


How about them apples?  Well, Pat Buchanan's apples smell pretty rotten to those guys down the street at the Cato Institute. 

Cato's Daniel Griswold, the Associate Director of the Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies, has prepared a study entitled, WTO Report Card: America's Stake in Open Trade (2000) He writes:

Despite warnings about “deindustrializtion” manufacturing in America today is thriving. The resurgence of US manufacturing comes against a backdrop of record imports.  Since 1992, during a period in which the WTO and the North American Free Trade Agreement were both in operation, the manufacturing output of the United States has risen by 42 percent.

America's trade deficit is the result, not of unfair trade barriers abroad, but of our continuing surplus of foreign investment. Trade liberalization through the WTO will not have a significant effect on the U.S. trade deficit in either direction . . .

One of the oldest charges against trade is that it destroys jobs.  The charge contains a grain of truth. Like technology, expanding the freedom of Americans to trade can accelerate a shift of employment from one industry to another.  While trade is responsible for destroying some jobs, it also creates new jobs.  The result is not more or fewer jobs, but a better mix of jobs.

Critics of trade mistakenly assume that imports raise the unemployment rate by displacing Americans who would otherwise make the same products domestically.  In reality, import growth and unemployment are negatively correlated. The more we import, the more jobs there are for Americans; or, to phrase it more precisely, the more Americans who hold jobs, the more we can afford to import .  .  .  Since 1973, there has not been a single year in which falling imports has been connected with a falling unemployment rate . . .

Another charge against open trade is that it has widened the gap between rich and poor in America. . . The theory . . . fails to explain what has actually been happening in the U.S. economy.  It is true that, until the mid-1990s, the wage gap had been growing between workers with a college degree and those with only a high school education. But the evidence points to technological change not international trade as the primary reason for the widening gap between wages of skilled and unskilled workers.  .  . Specifically, a more information based, technologically driven economy needs relatively more brains and less brawn . . .”

Despite predictions of its imminent doom, manufacturing in America today is thriving, American factories are producing more goods than ever before. Healthy gains in efficiency have kept American manufacturers competitive in international markets, maintaining America's position as the world's no. 1 exporter of manufactured goods.

Dr. Griswold concludes:

By encouraging governments around the world to liberalize trade, the WTO enhances the individual freedom as well as the material well-being of Americans.  Through a rules-based approach to trade policy, the WTO discourages governments from exercising their self-defeating power over the economic lives of citizens. Because of the WTO, Americans are not only better off materially, they are also a bit freer from the power of government to decide what they can produce and consume. 

Prosperity!  Freedom! Echoes of his Libertarian colleague at the Cato Institute, James Bovard, with which we started this presentation. 

What does Pat Buchanan think of that?  Well, as far as I know he hasn't replied directly. But we can find some general answers in his writing, to wit: “Materialism!” “Economism!” “Heresy!” “Not the American way!”

In The Death of the West  [p. 37], Buchanan says:

Many conservatives have succumbed to the heresy of Economism, a mirror-Marxism that holds that man is an economic animal, that free trade and free markets are the path to peace, prosperity, and happiness, that if we can only get the marginal tax rates right and the capital gains tax abolished, Paradise -- Dow 36,000! -- is at hand.  But when the income tax for the wealthiest was above 90% in the 1950s, America by every moral and social indicator was a better country.

“Economism.” I love that term. I think that Marilyn Sewell, whose sermon we visited a couple of weeks ago might like it too.  Dr. Sewell is not a great fan of those who would elevate the values of the market place above all others.

At any rate, Pat Buchanan thinks that we need to reestablish the American identity that we have lost, to regain and defend our historic culture, to reestablish the boundaries that distinguish us and set us apart from others. “And,” Buchanan says toward the close [at page 236] of The Death of the West:

. . . as that most American of poets, Robert Frost, wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.  Let us “walk the line and set the wall us between us once again.” 

Thus does Patrick Buchanan read Robert Frost,

Well now, actually, in my English class at Shrewsbury High School, young Harvey Lerner sort of agreed with Pat Buchanan. I made the argument that the wisdom and prudence of building fences was the whole point of Robert Frost's poem. 

But Miss Churchill, a lady from the State of Maine, a pillar of our high school faculty and of our small Massachusetts community, thought otherwise. Frost's main point, she said, was that “There is something that does not love a wall.” And that something, she thought, is rather fundamental. 

What do you think? 


“Globalizing the Spirit: A Semon by The Rev. Tom Burdett of the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church” (August 12, 2001)

Extract from “Sell the Lexus, Burn the Olive Tree: Globalization and its Discontents,” in Greg Palast, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (Pluto Press, 2002)

Harvey Lerner 10-25-02 Draft   Economic Globalization Class 4, Adult Programs

Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, Bethesda, Maryland