The Second Cold War

Dec. 12, 2011

The First Cold War lasted half a century. The West, led by the United States, won. The Communists, led by the Soviet Union, lost. During that Cold War we had many fellow travelers, sometimes called controllable Marxists. People like Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, Charlie Chaplin, Walter Duranty, Saul Alinsky, Pete Seeger, Henry Wallace and hundreds of thousands of other entertainers, scientists, media stars, CEOs and union leaders, politicians and academics. Including me. New left heroes like Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Noam Chomsky, John Lennon, and Allen Ginsberg joined the ranks in the Vietnam War days. Not including me.

Most fellow travelers were sincere, intelligent, and had the best of intentions. They supported, and in many cases led, progressive movements that brought genuine progress in the West, including women’s liberation and civil rights. They were not communists but were sympathetic to socialist ideas. And they did their best to blunt efforts to combat the international movement that wanted to remake the world into a socialist utopia where Marxist-inspired command economics was supposed to bring freedom and prosperity to all.

The socialist utopia never arrived and the price for pursuing it was high. Over one hundred million people lost their lives. The price was paid in massacres, slave labor camps and government-caused famines. It added up to more misery and death than all the wars of the 20th century combined.  As one French fellow traveler, Paul Noirot, wrote in honest despair after the Cold War ended, “At the end of the day we built nothing that lasted: no political system, no economic system, no communities, no ethic, no aesthetic. We wanted to realize the highest human aspirations and we ended up birthing monsters.”

Today in the West there is what I call a Second Cold War. This one unites followers of an environmental near-religion with at times uncomfortable bedfellows—left-wing descendants of Cold War fellow travelers. This potent combination makes claim number four—that most of our troubles today can be traced to corporate greed and globalization theft. It’s a not-so-new twist on an old Marxist theme—class warfare.

There is no question that there is inequality of wealth in the world. In past ages the inequality was much greater but it is true that the one percent at the top today have more net worth than forty percent at the bottom.

In the West, however, the 99% are pretty rich too. They are much richer than they were in the 1950s when income tax rates for the wealthy were much higher but the government got a much smaller percentage of its revenue from the rich than they do today. Even the bottom one percent today are richer than the top one percent of all previous ages. They have better food, less violence, longer life, better health, less pain, more travel, better shelter, more life, liberty and the freedom to pursue happiness.

In the socialist bloc countries of the Cold War there was less inequality, but 99% of the people were not pretty rich, they were very poor. As they are today in the two countries still committed to a radically socialist economy, Cuba and North Korea. In countries today with a watered-down version of socialism like Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Russia, Syria, Iran, Egypt and much of Africa, most people are also mostly poor.

On the other hand, major countries like China, India, Brazil and Mexico that in past decades relied heavily on socialist-leaning solutions are now helping the 99% to a better life by changing gears and moving strongly toward free-market capitalist ideas.

In Europe today most countries are still relatively free and relatively rich. But many are in increasing distress. After a strong recovery from WW2, countries in Europe fell for the siren song of command economy solutions: increase social services at the expense of the private sector; promote cradle-to-grave support for all; generously subsidize agriculture and desirable industries and heavily regulate them; don’t worry about deficits and debt. If obstacles—private property, greedy corporations or free trade—get in the way, pass laws to bypass or cripple them. For a while it worked pretty well. Today countries from Greece, Italy and Spain to Ireland, France and the UK are facing bankruptcy. Like people who have run up too much credit card debt they can’t pay the bills coming due.

I can already hear the critics howl: “So are you saying we should not have social security, Medicare, National Health Insurance, the EPA, public schools, and the thousand and one other benefits our government is now providing?”

No, I’m not. We are wealthy enough in this country to afford a modest safety net for all citizens. We are wealthy and smart enough to know we need to have reasonable regulations to protect our environment. We need the government to provide infrastructure and services it would be difficult or impossible to provide otherwise.  We need good public schools. We need a strong police and military to protect us from foreign and domestic thieves and murderers, and to enforce laws, guard the borders, protect private property, encourage free trade and foster justice.

But we are also wealthy and smart enough to know we should practice moderation in all things and be careful that in providing generous benefits we do not kill the geese that are laying the golden eggs. These golden eggs are the things that have made the 99% of us so rich, free, environmentally clean, and able to provide justice for all.

Who lays the golden eggs?

Creative entrepreneurs; productive managers in small and large companies; efficient workers in mines, factories, farms, hospitals, stores and offices; researchers in productive laboratories; good teachers in great schools; effective government employees; merchants and sales people; plumbers, electricians, truck-drivers, construction workers, fast-food cooks, janitors, etc., etc. In short, all the hard-working people who give a little more than they get and whose collective win-win transactions in an environment of freedom have made the rich world most of us enjoy today.

Globalization too creates more wealth for all. When we import goods and services from China, India, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America—China, India, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America escape from poverty and we get richer too. When we try to substitute subsidies, grants and fair trade, we get losers instead. Win-win trades are the very heart of what has made us such a rich country.

What makes for poverty? I choose my words carefully—a surplus of non-workers and a shortage of the freedom that leads to productive work and win-win trades.

Fellow travelers today, as in decades past, are right to want the poor and oppressed to have a voice, a vote, and a chance to get rich. They are right in supporting industrial and trade unions in their fight to get a fair share of the profits. They are right in fighting discrimination and injustice wherever found. Environmentalists are right to want to protect our air, soil and water. But both environmentalists and fellow travelers are wrong to want to expand the ranks of non-workers and to curtail the freedom needed to get productive work and win-win trades.

In practice fellow travelers and environmentalists are also wrong to demonize the rich; to bad mouth oil, gas and coal companies; to pit Main Street against Wall Street; to promote consumption while handicapping production; to demand regulations that give questionable benefits at enormous costs; to promote dependency on the government and condemn as racists those who seek to encourage self-help and independence; to claim that demand is more important than supply. (On this last issue the sustainable greens are uncomfortable bedfellows with their Marxist colleagues. Greens want to reduce both demand and supply to save the planet.)

It may be an exaggeration to call it a Second Cold War. Or maybe not. The stakes are high. Let’s hope it is decided by education and elections and not by street protests and violence.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. For more evidence and detail on the Second Cold War, see my new book, TWILIGHT OR DAWN? a Traveler’s Guide to Free-Market Liberal Democracy. (Part Four, pp. 218-280.) It can be found on www.hawkhill.com or on www.amazon.com. Also available now in e-book form.

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