NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Buchanan's "Great Betrayal" Is Confused

April 15, 1999

"Who lost America?" Pat Buchanan asks in the "Great Betrayal." No one, replies economist Murray Weidenbaum -- it is not lost.

Buchanan's thesis is that an economic and intellectual elite has imposed free trade policies on America that are destroying jobs, reducing wages, decimating manufacturing and concentrating economic power. By contrast, the protectionist trade policies and economic nationalism of the 1950s brought broad-based prosperity, says Buchanan.

This is self-delusion, says Weidenbaum; although the 1950s were very good times for many, the imperfect present is better for most Americans than the past. For example:

  • The unemployment rate reached 6.8 percent in 1958, and the non-white unemployment rate hit 12.6 percent that year.
  • The average workers' compensation adjusted for inflation was more than a third lower in 1959 than it is today.
  • The national total of savings deposits -- a good measure of consumer wealth -- was a modest $146 billion in December 1954; it is almost eight times that amount now.
  • Total industrial production in the 1950s was half of today's rate -- even though today American manufacturing faces foreign competition, where in the 1950s overseas competitors were recovering from the devastation of World War II.

Finally, when Buchanan says that "America's elite is prospering as never before," he may not realize he is describing the typical working American, says Weidenbaum. In 1993, the most recent year for which complete data are available, over 23 million people participated in 401(k) plans. And an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey conducted in 1997 reported that 51 percent of the respondents owned at least $5,000 worth of common stock or mutual funds.

Source: Murray Weidenbaum, "The Great Confusion: A Conservative's Response to Pat Buchanan's 'The Great Betrayal,'" CSAB Forum No. 4, March 1999, Center for the Study of American Business, Washington University, Campus Box 1027, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, Mo. 63130, (314) 935-5630.


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