The American Conservative, 20 April 2009

humane-economyAn old, and possibly apocryphal, story anchors Dermot Quinn’s appreciation of twentieth century German-Swiss economist Wilhelm Röpke.   Röpke was walking along a road with Ludwig von Mises, the great champion of free-market economics.  The two saw a neighborhood garden in a crowded urban center.  Seeing land that was in high demand for residential and commercial development given over to an elaborate tangle of separate plots and shared irrigation,Mises sniffed that it was “a most inefficient way of producing vegetables.”  Perhaps so, said Röpke.  “But it is a most efficient way of producing human happiness.”  Röpke has attracted every label in economics, from socialist to free marketer.  None of those labels really fit Röpke, because they all classify thinkers by which answer they offer to questions about what sort of economic system allocates resources most efficiently.  These questions struck Röpke as absurd.  Though as a technical economist Röpke had few peers, his interests were always in human beings and their development, not in any of the fashionable abstractions of his time such as “The Economy” or “The Market” or “The State” or “The Proletarian Revolution” or “The Aryan Race.”     

Barack Obama was elected president with the votes of millions of Americans who had had enough of war.  Now that Mr O has announced plans to increase troop levels in Afghanistan and officials of his administration have suggested that they may expand the Afghan war into Pakistan, his antiwar supporters are hardly raising a peep.  This leads Justin Raimondo to ask “Was the Left antiwar or just anti-Bush?”  Raimondo started when President Bill Clinton ordered US forces to bomb Serbia in 1999.  At the same time, your humble correspondent was also active in the antiwar movement.  Like Raimondo, I was struck by the passivity with which the supposedly dovish members of the Democratic Party went along with that adventure.  I’d always been curious about the antiwar Right, ever since I was a little kid hearing my parents reminisce about how their staunchly Republican parents had opposed FDR’s military interventionism with the same fervor that they opposed his economic interventionism.  After 1999, I was convinced that the “Old Right” was indispensible to any effort to break America of its addiction to warfare. 

The “Deep Background” column is less pessimistic about Afghanistan, pointing out that while “the nation-building agenda” that Mr O has publicly espoused for Afghanistan “is unrealistic and likely unattainable, a security framework to facilitate the kind of limited political consensus that would permit American withdrawal might just be achievable.”  So, the grounds for hope is that the stated purposes of Mr O’s actions in Afghanistan are so patently absurd that they likely mask an unstated plan to withdraw American forces from the country. 

Peter Hitchens, whose brother is also a magazine journalist, worries that all is not well in the new South Africa.  President-designate Jacob Zuma’s fondness for the song “Bring Me My Machine Gun,” his closeness to the South African Communist Party, his refusal to be interviewed by journalists, his open practice of polygamy, his public boasts that he used to make a habit of beating homosexuals senseless, his apparent belief that HIV-AIDS is something that can be cured by a nice hot shower, and his former role as the defendant in a rape trial all combine to suggest to Hitchens that Zuma might be something less than the ideal leader for South Africa at this particular moment in its history.

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