The New Primitivism Has Dire Consequences for America

Article excerpt

The shrillest man in politics - Patrick Buchanan - was right last week when he said that Congress' refusal to touch the $40 billion Mexican loan package with a 10-foot pole was "an incredible victory for economic nationalism and a healthy new populism."

That's why alternative measures that seem to have contained the crisis for the moment - $20 billion in loans from the Exchange Stabilization Fund, and another $30 billion from international lending agencies - are scant comfort.

It is as if President George Bush had declined to engage Iraq over Kuwait, instead asking the United Nations to share the task because Congress refused to burden the U.S. taxpayer.

One can only shudder at what such a response would have meant to confidence in U.S. political leadership in the post-Cold War world.

The unwillingness of Congress - and of the public - to face up to the Mexican crisis will have a no less traumatic effect when the world gets around to thinking about it.

The nature of the abdication is the same as abandoning Kuwait, only perhaps more serious in the much more time-sensitive sphere of global financial markets.

Financial confidence throughout the world investment community won't ever be quite the same now that America has said it may not play if things get rough.

It is of no small moment when this country demonstrates to the world that grumbling U.S. taxpayers will block the use of their resources to help stabilize the global economy, on which their own, and everyone's, prosperity depends.

Responsibility lies with politicians from both parties. Many have harangued the public for years about how the powers-that-be do nothing but cheat them.

Even more harmful has been the attack on government's most important function: preventing the system from going to pieces when things go wrong by managing the interdependence between America and the rest of the world.

Worse, endless repetition of the idea that people have no other interest than lowering their tax bills - and should let the world go hang - breeds the contempt for consequences that stayed Congress' hand last week.

This is not merely populism, but primitivism. Unfortunately, it's an easy sell in a culture that is relentlessly dumbing itself down.

In a world of sound bites where everything is reduced to just-so stories focusing on human drama, complex problems have become a matter of intuition, not information. …