I want to conclude with a few notes on the importance of organization, which is to say, on the nature of the organizational task that lies before us. I could just as easily say that I want to conclude with some observations concerning our rights and responsibilities as American citizens. For it is one of the unique features of our situation today that we are in fact a free people. Both economically free and politically free. In fact we have at our disposal a whole catalog of freedoms that are spelled out for us in the most literal terms: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of conscience and of religion, freedom of contract, freedom to associate and to assemble peaceably together, the right to petition our government, the right to vote, the right to bear arms. To top it all there has recently been placed in our hands a marvelous new technology of freedom such as the world has never seen. I refer of course to the revolutionary technology of the internet, cell phones, and personal computers: a technology that we are just learning to harness in the full exercise of our constitutional rights and responsibilities.
In short, there has never been a time in history when there was less excuse for a people not to lawfully organize themselves to peacefully claim what is rightfully theirs. If we fail now we shall have no one to blame but ourselves.
Before I go any further let me pause to say that I am hardly an expert on matters of organization. On the contrary, I am the rankest of amateurs. I have absolutely no experience in this area, lacking the skills and the patience to organize my closet let alone a democratic mass movement for change. So everything I am about to say should be taken, if not with a grain of salt, then at least with a measure of skepticism. There will be people reading these notes with far better insight into the organizational problem before us. Hopefully some of them will be among our leaders in the decades ahead. But whoever ends up leading our organization at one time or another, no matter how talented they are, let them keep in mind that they are not prophets but fallible human beings just like everybody else. And let them conduct themselves accordingly. “Style is the deference that action pays to uncertainty,” as a famous American physicist once remarked. The road ahead is a long and tricky one and we must be prepared to learn from our mistakes, both individually and as an organized group, if we expect to go very far. I would recommend the Viennese philosopher Karl Popper as our guiding light in this regard. Read him.
With this proviso let me map the road ahead as I see it. It resembles in many ways the road taken by European Jewry a century ago, when to escape persecution they elected to establish a national refuge for Jews in the Holy Land. Of course there are differences, one being that ours is a voluntary movement undertaken not out of necessity as an act of self-preservation, but as a matter of free choice. Even more important ours is a movement which will take place within the boundary of our own very large nation, not across international borders, let alone on another continent. These are enormous differences and we must keep them in mind. Yet organizationally the two tasks are essentially the same. We can learn a great deal from that earlier Zionist experience and that is why I propose we take it as our model.
Let us therefore contemplate building a new “American Zionist Organization” in these United States along the lines of the original World Zionist Organization: an organization designed to advancing the interests of all Americans who are seriously interested in pursuing a life like the one I have described it in these pages. Like the WZO this new body will have state and local chapters -- only this time the “states” will be states within the United States -- and it will most assuredly be a democratic organization open to all our citizens without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin. These are absolute requirements.
But this still leaves a number of questions to be decided. What will be the powers of the executive? What kind of parliamentary structure should it have? What form of representation? What system of voting? In this internet age there are a number of new possibilities is this area that we need to consider if we want to take advantage of the best, which of course we do. Our overriding goal in any case must be to design an organization which will represent the interests of all of its members (that means without prejudice to the full range and diversity of their values and beliefs) in such a way as to maximize the effectiveness of the organization as an agency acting on their collective behalf. Not an easy thing to do.
One of the recurrent failures I have observed in American democratic institutions in recent decades, at the state and local levels especially, but also in our labor unions and many other civic organizations, has been a certain opaqueness in the daily business of governance accompanied by a kind of walking-deadness in the behavior of many -- indeed most -- of our elected public officials. These are qualities we must strive to overcome and eliminate, not just in the local and state chapters of our new organization but indeed in our future townships as well. As Hannah Arendt pointed out in her essay on the human condition, politics in a democracy is -- or at least ought to be -- the best live entertainment there is: a stage for talent and personality on which the whole community is focused, both mentally and morally. History shows the American people have good political instincts by and large. We need to exercise them more.
That said, among the major tasks of our future organization I would list, in no particular order:
Recruitment. Ordinary people cannot join our organization if they do not first hear about it. This pamphlet is a step in that direction, even though it is primarily intended to inspire a new generation of young people in America to serve as the cadres of our cause. Once these cadres have come together and worked out in detail the forms of parliamentary organization I mentioned above, their first task will be to launch a national campaign of advertising. In that campaign we – or rather they -- should employ all the resources of modern mass media with a view towards reaching as wide an audience as possible. Special consideration should be given to the possibilities of working closely with and cultivating the good will of existing churches, colleges, high schools, trade unions, and other civic organizations, particularly at the local level, since this is where the nuclei of future neighborhood groups are most likely to be found. These future neighborhood groups will be the bedrock of our organization and its primary constituency.
Public outreach. There will be millions of Americans who may not choose this new lifestyle for themselves but who will nevertheless look upon our cause with sympathy. Some of these people will be financially successful, others will be influential in politics and the media. We need to reach out to these groups and enlist their support. This will be especially important in the early stages of our development when our numbers will be few and our alternatives limited.
I would make a special appeal to the American Ashkenazi community: "Come on, guys, give us a hand! We are your fellow American citizens, not 19th century Polish serfs. We recognize your talent and we honor your numerous contributions to our culture and civilization. Nor will we ever forget the price your ancestors paid to keep the traditions of your ancestors alive. Come, then, let us work together for a greater good, bearing in mind that you may need of our political support someday just as surely as we need yours today.”
Public Relations. Our cause being just let us guard our good name and always take care to show an honest face to the rest of the world. We must be prepared to defend ourselves against all slander and to answer the various polemical attacks that are sure to be leveled against us. There are going to be groups in our society who, whether rightly or wrongly, will fear that their material interests are threatened and their ideological preconceptions offended by our demands. Of course there will be times when their criticisms will be just. On these occasions let us have the grace and courage to admit we are wrong and to correct ourselves accordingly. Yet history shows there is seldom much progress in this world -- of a material kind especially -- that does not involve substantial and sometimes unavoidable conflicts of interest. Let us always strive to keep these conflicts civil, to walk in the other man’s shoes for a while, and to compromise where possible.
Training and Support. There is bound to be an interval of years between the time when most families first join our organization and the time they are finally able to begin their new lives. Our leaders must make sure they make full use of this interval. Couples must work assiduously to save money -- this will be absolutely required – not only to make down payments on their future homesteads but to prove they have the grit and determination necessary to make a new start in life. They are going to have to learn new skills -- in construction, cooking, home economics -- and at the same develop the special qualifications required for employment in the various types of industry for which they are suited and which we must be able to attract. The enforcement of minimum professional and financial qualifications will be key to the future success of our townships.
It is imperative, therefore, that our new organization furnish its members with ample opportunities to acquire these qualifications while at the same time supplying them with ways to keep their spirits up during the interval. Social activities can be scheduled for evenings and weekends alongside all kinds of workshops and classes. Organized political activities during election seasons should certainly be part of the mix, at the local and precinct levels especially. The game of politics can be tremendous fun as I have already indicated -- and never more fun than when your side is winning.
Corporate Outreach. An essential reason why we are confident our future townships are going to succeed is that the factories anchoring them will be more profitable than similar factories elsewhere in the United States which are managed conventionally. But of course ever since Nafta and Gatt passed into law it has become conventional wisdom among manufacturers to suppose their factories can be even more profitable if they are located in low wage areas overseas. Is there any reason to suppose this will change?
As a matter of fact there is. For several decades now the United States has been running unprecedented trade deficits with our trading partners overseas, amounting now to trillions of dollars. These accumated trade deficits represent claims that foreign countries have on future American exports. Sooner or later these debts will be paid. And when that time comes there is reason to think that much of the repayment will be in the form of American manufactured goods. What else could this country possibly produce in the way of exportable goods on such a scale? Patents, software, and new Hollywood movies can only take us so far.
In other words, there is reason to believe that sooner or later a tectonic shift in America’s balance of payments is going to occur, whose harbinger undoubtedly will be a marked decline in the dollar’s value relative to currencies overseas. As I write in the spring of 08, there are signs that this is already starting to happen. What this fall in the dollar presages, unless I am mistaken, is nothing less than a renaissance in American manufacturing. In precisely what industries this renaissance will occur is not easy to predict. Machine tools and other high-technology goods will almost certainly be an important part of the mix. The U.S. might even start exporting cars again -- new kinds of cars, more environmentally friendly and energy efficient than those we have produced in the past. But whatever we end up producing there are solid theoretical grounds to predict that new techniques of mass production will come into play -- and that at the heart of these new techniques will be a renewed emphasis upon the large-scale employment of human labor in place of industrial robots. In short, there is reason to think that America’s factories of the future will be tailor made for our purposes here.
We must be prepared to take advantage of this opportunity when it comes, which we can do by pre-selling our ideas to the American manufacturing community. But do this it will be necessary to recruit a cadre of corporate ambassadors. One logical place to look for them is in the graduating classes of our nation’s leading business schools. We need to enlist professional men and women who are qualified to go out into the corporate world and persuasively make our case. When we have the means we should also open up offices on Wall Street and do everything possible to attract the attention of leading financial journalists who can make our case in the business press. Let us do whatever it takes to bring ourselves and our ideas to the attention of the movers and shakers of the world of capital.
Town Planning. The need to go out and recruit the best urban planners and developers in America is something I have already discussed. I have little doubt this is the way to begin. But beyond our first ventures -- assuming they are successful -- we must prepare for the day when the demand for first-rate talent in these areas will outstrip the supply. Our program is of a kind that should and no doubt actually will appeal to America's schools of architecture and town-planning and to already-established departments of urban development and civil engineering in our major universities. We would be foolish not to approach these already existing institutions not only as a source of ideas and advice at the beginning, but in the hopes of attracting more and better students in the years ahead. We have a mutual interest in upgrading the professions of town-planning and urban development in America, both in terms of numbers and in terms of quality.
A National Land Bank? Eventually, if our movement prospers and our membership grows, we might take another page out of the history of Zionism and explore the possibility of organizing a national land bank. The idea would be to utilize the collected savings of our members to purchase future town-sites, much as the Jewish National Fund used its assets to purchase land for colonies in the future state of Israel. I have no clear sense whether this would be a truly good idea or even whether it is a feasible one but merely suggest it for future consideration. Let us leave no stone unturned.
News and Information. Naturally our organization must provide its members the means to freely communicate among themselves and to stay accurately informed about all major developments affecting them and their organization, its internal affairs, and its mission. The first of these objectives can be met using the new social networking tools of the internet. The second is more challenging. Official websites, bulletins, and similar in-house publications will obviously be part of the mix. But attention must also be given to the establishment of truly independent newspapers and other media which are not directly under control of the organization's executive: publications that can be relied upon to give all sides to every controversial issue, not just the side that happens to be favored by the group of elected officials who are in momentary control of its executive machinery.
I do not pretend to know the best way to accomplish this goal. I can only suggest that we look at the history of the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall St. Journal as two possible models, the latter before it was acquired by Rupert Murdoch, and that we pay special attention to the problem of editorial succession. The New York Times and the British journal Nature are two cautionary tales on how not to proceed. Conceivably this is a problem with no permanent solution, in which case every generation will have to solve it anew. But let us at least get it right for the first generation.
An Independent Judiciary. Though this may sound strange or unnecessary, I would favor establishing some sort of independent judiciary within our new organization: a body whose mandate would be to protect the rights and interests of all its members without prejudice and to insure the impartial enforcement of the organization’s duly-adopted constitution and by-laws as well as the various policies and initiatives which its membership shall have approved through its elected representatives.
In addition our organization must be equipped to pursue its own legal and constitutional rights within the courts of the United States and should think about developing the requisite staff and legal resources ahead of time to do this effectively.
I leave for last what in my opinion is the most crucial task of all. We need to organize a broad base of political support for our plans and ideas throughout the country, not just in the hearts and minds of the public but in every state legislature in America and in both houses of Congress. To see why this is so vital let me tell you a story.
It is the story of a previous homesteading venture in this country, one remarkably similar to the one we are proposing now, complete with part-time jobs, rural factories, and people building their own houses. What should interest us, however, are not the similarities so much as the way this earlier venture originated, the manner of its attempted implementation, and its eventual failure.
It began as little more than a bee in the bonnet of President Franklin Roosevelt, put there by a young agricultural economist in his new administration named Milburn Wilson. Indeed it was but one of a myriad of new ideas which were hatched in the early days of Roosevelt’s New Deal. It was motivated by the need to bring economic relief to the hundreds of thousands of farm families across America who suddenly found themselves stranded in the far reaches of the rural countryside with no market for their produce and thus with no means of support.
Roosevelt described his new idea in terms of a new “rural-industrial group" which would exist as a “third type” between the "urban-industrial" and "rural-agricultural" groups of the past. To bring this third type into being he proposed a new Division of Subsistence Homesteads which would be set up within his Resettlement Administration as part of a vast new machinery of national planning and regional economic development.. Caught up in the spirit of the times and because this was one of the new president’s pet ideas, Congress quickly appropriated sufficient funds to begin several hundred pilot projects.
What happened next is an object lesson in how not to proceed. In the first place the people who were pioneering these ventures were not idealistic volunteers who were committed to Roosevelt’s beautiful new idea. On the contrary, they were farmers on relief, men and women who had accepted the government’s offer to build their own houses because they were going to get paid for it and this was the only paying work they could find. What’s more, it quickly became apparent that this was Roosevelt's dream not theirs and that they were to be given little say in how it would be implemented.
Thus it was that, in keeping with the human-engineering mindset so fashionable in the 1930’s, all homesteaders were required to work under the direct supervision of government officials who had been sent down from Washington, in places on the map which had been chosen from Washington, according to designs and specifications which had been drawn up in Washington. In fact every house was to be built to the very same floor plan! Naturally such heavy-handed tactics did not sit well with America’s yeoman farmers, used as they were to their own independence, and their displeasure quickly became manifest. News spread quickly that there was dissension in the field.
A second problem was that the promised factories failed to materialize. This is hardly surprising when you consider the Great Depression lasted ten years. But even had the economic recovery gotten underway sooner it seems unlikely that Roosevelt's idea of rural-industrial groups could ever have come to fruition. Most of the technological infrastructure required for industrial decentralization had not been invented yet, much less installed. Never mind cell phones and the internet: rural electrification was just barely underway and the international highway system was twenty years in the future.
As these realities began to sink in and as news of dissension among the farmers in the field filtered back to Washington Roosevelt’s pet project came under intense ideological assault in the halls of Congress, financed by business groups who were adamantly opposed to any form of government planning as a matter of principle. Roosevelt, meanwhile, had moved on and was now preoccupied by other, more pressing concerns in these, the first tumultuous years of his new administration. And since he and the young Milburn Wilson were the only two men in Washington who had “caught the vision” as it were, the idea part-time jobs in the country was left without a single effective spokesman in the place where it counted.
From that point we are treated to the spectacle of an idea without a constituency. Or rather I should say we are treated to the spectacle of an idea whose only constituency consisted of several hundred thousand impoverished farm families scattered across America. Being completely unorganized and without leaders of their own they found themselves utterly without influence in the halls of Congress. Little wonder their funding was unceremoniously discontinued, leaving the seeds of their future homestead communities to wither on the vine.
I often think of these Depression-era farm families whenever I drive through the tiny hamlet of Homestead, Tennessee, which is on Highway 27 near where I live. Off to the side of the road in a large open field you see a sprinkling of hand-crafted cottages made of the local crab orchard stone. Beautifully constructed on what appear to be solid foundations, they stand as mute memorials to a long-forgotten dream.
The point I wish to make here is that in a representative democracy such as the one we live in it pays to be organized. It isn’t enough that your cause it is just. Nor is it enough that the President of the United States is on your side. When there is a fundamental clash of class interests, unless your side has the numbers and the organization -- the numbers plus the organization – there is no way your side can prevail. Politics is a contest of numbers, organization, and money. The money is organized. The money is always organized. So pity our poor chances if we don't get organized as well.
I want to step back now and survey the general situation in the United States as it exists at the present moment (circa 2008), at least as I see it. The over-riding reality in so far as most ordinary America families are concerned is that we no longer live in a middle-class society. Certainly we no longer live in a middle-class society as that term was understood by the generation that struggled through the Great Depression and then went on to fight and win the Second World War and the Cold War at a cost of some ten trillion dollars. To them and their children the American Dream meant a house in the suburbs and a full-time Mom who stays at home with the kids. For the GI’s who came home after WWII this was The American Way of Life as we used to call it because it was something that every family in America could reasonably aspire to, and which a majority was eventually able to achieve.
But it was more than this. During the seemingly never-ending decades Cold War here was a concrete example the whole world could see, the kind of life ordinary citizens might be able to enjoy if they chose to live in a modern liberal constitutional democracy instead of a communist utopia. In contrast to the bloodless abstractions of Marxist ideology here was something warm and tangible, something you could actually watch on television in such popular television shows as Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver. It was a picture of life’s possibilities, one that appealed to the imagination of hundreds of millions of poor people around the world. In their eyes this is what America stood for, and in no small measure it was because of the existence of this picture of life’s possibilities that our side was able to prevail in that difficult period of international struggle.
But now, of course, all this has changed and changed utterly, in the mournful phrase of William Butler Yeats. In the short span of three decades the United States has gone from being the land of the common man to the land of the uncommon man, in the process of which the American Dream has been downsized and privatized to the point that it now stands for little more than the possibility of striking it rich.
You may have noticed that our political elites have largely ceased speaking the language of the general welfare. They seldom refer to the American people as a whole anymore. Instead they paint the picture of a Lake Wobegone society in which every child will have an opportunity “to get ahead,” “to go to college,” and in which any individual who works hard enough can aspire to enter the professions and climb to the top of whatever corporate pyramid he has chosen to climb. There, and only there, at the very apex of the pyramid, does true happiness lie, or so our elites seem to be saying. Having deserted the democratic ideal of an egalitarian society our governing class now finds itself worshipping at the altar of “the bitch-goddess Success,” in William James’s unforgettable metaphor.
Meanwhile, what has happened to the bottom three-quarters of our society? Never mind the ones who failed to obtain an advanced degree, what about the majority who didn't graduate from college or even finish high school, who earn their livings with their hands and their feet and not with their brains. These people exist after all. What’s more, they will always exist. And they will always be the overwhelming majority of citizens in this or any other democracy. So why have our leaders forgotten about them?
There are two ways to answer this question. Or rather, I should say, there are two places we can look for an answer. One is at the top of our society and the other at the bottom. Let me start at the bottom.
When we examine the contemporary economic situation of America’s wage-earning class and compare it to the past, the first thing we notice is that this class is no longer organized. Over the past thirty years the American labor movement has largely disappeared. This was partly a result of a fundamental flaw inherent in the way labor movement was originally conceived and organized, on a craft and industry basis that pitted worker against worker. But we should not let this shortcoming distract us from the more overriding reality, which is that the American labor movement disintegrated under the pressure of emerging historical forces that were quite beyond its ability to control. Two in particular we need to understand.
The first of these forces is technological progress. We saw how it worked in The Parable of the Truffle Diggers at the very beginning of this essay. There I tried to show why new labor saving devices do not necessarily work to everyone’s advantage. More precisely we saw why labor saving devices only work to everyone’s advantage if certain additional steps are taken. The reason, of course, is that labor saving innovations by their very nature reduce the demand for labor. All else being equal a reduction in demand for labor leads to a reduction in its price, the price of labor being but another name for the level of wages. Thus unless society intervenes, technological progress can mean progress for the few at the expense of the many.
Historically the way Americans dealt with this problem was by artificially restricting the hours of employment, thereby keeping the supply of labor in line with the falling demand. The best example of this was the gradual adoption of the 8-hour-day and the 5-day-week in the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. New wage and hour laws (together with the abolition of child labor) were how our society responded to the widespread introduction of new agricultural machinery -- combines, tractors, reapers, and the like -- on American farms, where 80 percent of the population were formerly employed. Populism and Progressivism were the two organized political movements that fought for these changes, establishing in the process the new American institution of the weekend. Indeed it was largely thanks to the success of these two movements that ordinary American working families were able to enjoy a measure of leisure and affluence in the decades following World War II.
If the first wave of labor-saving technology occurred on the farm, the second wave – which we have yet to confront – took place in the home. I refer to the mass introduction of new household appliances -- washing machines and dryers, electric ranges, refrigerators, automatic dishwashers, microwave ovens – in those same three decades of democratic affluence. The unintended consequence of all these new appliances was a new kind of technological unemployment. It began when millions of middle-class American housewives began to feel they no longer had enough to do. Feeling bored and superfluous during much of the week they made what looked like a rational decision to enter the job market in order to earn a little extra money for the family. It was a consequence of this seemingly innocuous decision that led to our current situation in which both parents in most families are now required to work outside the home in a losing battle to prop up their standard of living – a situation only made worse by the subsequent and ongoing automation of the workplace made possible by computers.
It should be clear by now that if the American people are going to share the benefits of technological progress they must forge a new popular consensus in favor of a much shorter workweek. But this will not be an easy task. After all, there exists a small privileged stratum at the tope society – the top 1% -- who profit enormously from the current situation. This stratum will do everything it can to preserve the status quo. One trick in particular we need to look out for. They will try to exploit the growing divisions of race and ethnicity that have been created in the wake of the latest wave of mass immigration. Such divisions make the challenge of organizing a democratic mass movement for change all that much more difficult. But it was an obstacle that the Populists and Progressives also had to face. Maybe we can learn a few things from their experience. I recommend in this connection the writings of Samuel Gompers, the Jewish cigar roller from the Lower East Side of New York City who organized the American Federation of Labor, especially the writings which are collect in his book, Labor and the Common Welfare, available online through Google Books.
There is second, potentially even more devastating historical development driving American wages in a downward direction, one which is fundamentally different from the first and therefore requires a very different response. I refer to our country’s leap into the brave new world of global free trade and unrestricted capital mobility. As a result of this leap American workers have effectively been placed in wage competition with billions of impoverished third-world peasants around the world who are willing -- indeed eager -- to work for less than a dollar an hour. Forget the silly argument politicians sometimes use to play on our pride, namely, that, with the right education and enough training American workers can compete with any workers in the world. For the plain fact of the matter is that factory work is not brain surgery and unless we are willing to work harder for less (which is what “competing” means after all) American manufacturers are now free to build their new factories in lowest-wage areas of the world, or even dismantle their old facilities and move them overseas if and when they feel the necessity of doing so.
That corporations are choosing to do just that is hardly surprising. Not when you consider the new rules of the game: failure to invest where wages are lowest puts many if not all manufacturers at a severe disadvantage in relation to those who do, a situation that must eventually drive them out of business altogether. This raises an interesting question: Why did President Clinton and Congress decide in favor of NAFTA and GATT in the first place?
The short answer is that they took this decision under the influence of America’s leading economists who sold them on the idea that free trade must necessarily be in the long-term interest of the American people as a whole. It was all according to the standard textbook theory of free trade or so our leaders were assured: a theory that was understood and accepted by virtually every credentialed, self-respecting economist in the world.
Unfortunately, the modern textbook theory of free trade is not understood by most professional economists nowadays, believe it or not, while those who do understand because they specialize in trade theory know the conclusion to be false. Even more scandalously, the American economics profession has known this conclusion to be false more at least half a century, ever since the dean of the American economists, Paul Samuelson, co-authored a famous paper on “protectionism and real wages” in 1942. In fact the real truth was discovered even earlier than that, in 1921, when Swedish economist Eli Heckscher published his groundbreaking essay on foreign trade and its effects on the distribution of income – an essay that had the added virtue of indentifying redistributive taxation as the preferred means to remedy the class-based inequities caused by free trade in a lopsided world.
To put it another way, modern trade theory unequivocally predicts that wages will fall in high-wage countries and rise in low-wage countries when poor and rich countries trade freely with each other, a process that will continue until wages are more or less equal in both sets of countries. This is the conclusion famously demonstrated mathematically by Paul Samuelson (again) in his so-called factor-price equalization theorem.* To appreciate how significant the problem of equalization might be we need only contemplate the huge disparities in income and population that exist between poor countries like China and India -- two billion people willing to work for less than a dollar an hour -- and the rich countries of Europe and the United States, where roughly half a billion people earn twenty times as much. The process of wage equalization is not passing matter. It will go on for decades if not generations.
So, then, in light of this, why did America’s leading economists -- starting with Paul Samuelson himself – choose to mislead our nation’s political leaders on a matter of such consequence?
I do not pretend to know the complete answer to this question. But I do know that part of the answer has to do with the power of peer pressure, especially when that pressure is governed by an orthodox mindset that now reigns supreme in the American academy. The notion that free trade must always and everywhere promote the general welfare has long been a shibboleth among professional economists. It had and continues to have the status of a self-evident truth which no respectable member of the guild would dare question in public.
A similar mindset prevails in many other areas of discourse. Indeed, with a few exceptions it has become the hallmark of our institutions of higher learning in general and in the pages of our leading popular scientific journals and national newspapers. One need only recall the disgraceful Larry Summers episode at Harvard; or the hysterical reaction that greeted Bjorn Lomborg’s very sensible book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, in the pages of The Scientific American; or the positive review of the movie Borat which appeared in The New York Times (to say nothing of the Duke lacrosse case) along with dozens of bigoted comments which followed in the on-line edition, to choose but three examples. To judge by the evidence the leading figures in our cultural and educational institutions are no longer committed to a critical, unbiased search for truth, preferring to be governed instead by the prejudices and ideological predilections of their colleagues down the hall.
The result is an America that can no longer have an honest conversation with itself. An America that mindlessly celebrates multiculturalism and diversity, but then turns around and adopts trade and immigration policies that show absolutely no regard for the welfare of the oldest and most deserving minority in our midst. An America that celebrates the natural sciences but cannot rationally discuss the issues raised by climate change, to say nothing of the challenges of human biodiversity. That preaches the doctrine of free trade but denies the phenomenon of factor-price equalization. That imagines our government has the power to enforce labor and environmental standards in other countries but ignores the power we actually do possess to subsidize wages here at home. Realism being the first requirement of moral responsibility in this world, no wonder America is in the fix it is in.
Let me be frank. Unless America’s working classes get themselves organized on some permanent basis then no short-term success on our part, no matter how spectacular, can deliver us from a future of poverty and ruin. To choose but one example: suppose every worker in America who wants a part-time job in the country gets one. Unless we are united as a class we will all wake up one day to discover that we no longer have the ability to defend ourselves against the predatory practices of unscrupulous employers. Having lost our access to a virtually unlimited number of alternative employers – which is the case in big cities -- we will leave ourselves exposed to the market power of big corporations. Unless we can coordinate our response on a wide geographical basis our only choice will be to knuckle under to whatever demands the corporations choose to make. Either that or quit our homes and communities altogether and move back to the cities from whence we came.
But this is a long-term problem. In the short-term we have other, more pressing concerns. It is time to begin to repair the damage that has been done – and that will continue to be done -- to American wages and working conditions by NAFTA and GATT.. The best way to do this, as I have already indicated, is not the traditional one of erecting protectionist trade barriers. What is done in the way of international trade cannot be undone. To try to hold back the tides of world trade at this point could, and probably would, destabilize the entire global economy.
The better way – indeed the absolutely best way to rectify the situation according to standard textbook economic theory – is by means of a program of redistributive taxation. It is possible to design a system that would directly subsidize American hourly wages, and to finance it by means of a graduated consumption tax. The advantage of a graduated consumption tax in particular (in contrast to the graduated income tax we currently use) is that it is a fair and efficient way – maybe the only fair and efficient way – to generate the necessary revenues without destroying the incentives to enterprise that drive the U.S. economy. In principle this has been known for a long time. But it was not until the eve of World War II that an American economist, Irving Fisher, outlined a system to implement such a tax. Fisher’s idea may not have been feasible when he proposed it, but high-speed computers and global telecommunications make it a real possibility today.
In general we must work together to force ourselves upon the consciousness – and upon the conscience -- of those small elites of great fortune who reign on Wall Street and in the other financial capitals around the world. For the rich will always be with us. The only thing we can hope to change is their attitude towards us and their understanding of the nature of this new American civilization we all share -- or rather, I should say, the nature of this new world civilization towards which America should be leading. We can make them see that it is in their own long-term interest as well as ours to establish it on the basis of a new equilibrium -- of a concordance of classes within a framework of equality and mutual respect -- in place of the old one based on domination and submission, which it is time we marked paid.
At the risk of offending some of my more secular-minded readers I want to close with a personal note to all ordinary men and women everywhere who, like me, have longed for the day. Only we can take ourselves to the promised land. Nobody else can do it for us. Only if we work together in a spirit of cooperation, discipline, and good cheer can we realistically expect to come into our inheritance, of which it is written:
Let us teach our children the original, pure religion of Abraham and to never forget the generations of our ancestors before us, drawn from the four quarters of the globe. For it was their sacrifice alone, both willing and unwilling, that makes everything possible; now and forever, world without end. They must never forget that.