Sunday, May 13, 2001

While we worry about missile defense and terrorist attacks, our illusions are sneaking up on us. Or so readers think. Readers responded to my recent column, “Can the U.S. survive its illusions?” with demands that other illusions be exposed.

My examples pushing our British allies into the arms of France and Germany, an immigration rate beyond our assimilation capability, and China all qualified in readers´ minds as dangerous illusions. Here are some of the “but what about …” cases.

Many readers think the United Nations is less an instrument for good than an organization where opponents can leverage their otherwise insignificant individual weights against us. A prime example is the recent vote by tyrant nations and European Union countries to evict the United States from membership on the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The world´s human rights are now safely in the hands of China, Cuba, Vietnam, Libya, Algeria, Syria and Sudan, where human slavery is still rife.

Another example is the desecration of heroes, founding fathers, and political and religious symbols the glue, so to speak, that holds commonality together. A country that casts aside its heroes has no examples with which to instruct its young. If the best we have to offer George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee, to mention but a few can be stripped of all virtue, how does one reprimand a misbehaving teen-ager or inspire a young punk to better behavior?

Heroes are respected for their selflessness and for serving honor and God above self. Readers say that school shootings reflect self-absorbed youth no longer instructed by heroic deeds.

The dethroning of our heroes has been a long process. Philosophers, historians, biographers, novelists and Hollywood have all played a part. When it first began, the dethroning process was enlightening. The initial audience, already enculturated with the virtues of heroism, did not throw out the baby with the bath water. But as time passed, subsequent generations came to know no heroes, and the virtues are lost.

Older readers worry that it is an irretrievable loss. How does a culture bring back standards and values that are not passed on? Essential ingredients of our culture are passing away like a language that ceases to be spoken. Can a deconstructed history and literature be resurrected? This is the important educational question of our time, not test scores.

Many readers believe that free trade, if not an illusion, at least works against us in the way it is practiced. Readers understand that free trade means lower prices, but they wonder if there are larger consequences from the loss of manufacturing capability.

Readers point, for example, to our dependence on foreign oil, which sent us into the Gulf war against Iraq, as evidence that dependency has consequences. To protect our energy source, we maintain a substantial military presence in the Persian Gulf. What if we were dependent on China for our fighter planes as well as for military uniforms, on Mexico for missile components as well as for automobile parts, and on France for nuclear material for our warheads?

There is no hard evidence that policy-makers think about such questions. Where protection for U.S. producers exists, as in textile and sugar quotas, policy-makers are unconcerned that the protection is vitiated in practice.

Foreign firms evade U.S. sugar quotas by mixing Brazilian sugar with Canadian molasses and trucking the product across the U.S. border to a separation plant in Michigan that extracts the sugar and undersells domestic refiners.

The combination of a sugar price support system with government toleration of its evasion by foreigners leaves American firms holding the bag. America´s largest sugar refiner, Imperial Sugar, has just gone bankrupt. Forbes magazine reports that the U.S. candymaker, Brach, is closing its facilities in the Chicago area, because “it is cheaper to import sugar into the country in the form of finished candies than to buy it here.”

Textile quotas are evaded by mislabeling. The Chinese appear to be particularly adept at evading textile quotas in this manner. The U.S. government´s toleration of the evasion does nothing to increase China´s respect for us.

What effect does the cynical offer of unenforced protection have on domestic apparel producers?

With the dollar serving as the world´s reserve currency, the U.S. trade deficit reflects a high demand for dollars. Does the dollar remain the reserve currency when our manufacturing base completes its move offshore? When the American economy consists of the marketing and distributions of foreign made products, will the United States remain a superpower?

Readers are concerned that if historians have George Washington wrong, economists might have free trade wrong. Once doubts begin, where do they stop?

Paul Craig Roberts is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.

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