To the Editor:
In, dealing with foreign policy, Mr. Galbraith’s lively article in the June number suffers, I think, from a certain inconsistency [“An Agenda for American Liberals”]. He says “the test of policy henceforth must be not the negative one of what fights Communism but the affirmative one of what serves the interests of the United States.” So far, we have no quarrel. He then adds, however, that “Liberals must affirm what we long ago learned, that the only good foreign policy is a liberal foreign policy, and that liberalism does not stop at the water’s edge. . . . A liberal policy identifies us with the hopes and aspirations of the people. . . . A conservative policy identifies us with privileged groups and with governments that are the servants and protectors of privilege.”
Appropriately discounting the rhetorical atmosphere of the occasion of his speech, and giving full and sympathetic weight to the author’s ebullience of style and spirit, I submit that Galbraith’s Second Law of Foreign Policy will often be at war with his First. I agree that the only test of foreign policy should be the national interest, broadly and generously construed—a national interest capable of the Marshall Plan and Foreign Aid, and of working to save the peace in Cyprus, Berlin, the Congo, Greece, Korea, and, I should add, in Vietnam too. But the proposition that it is in our national interest to support only those foreign governments which Mr. Galbraith would classify as identified with the aspirations of their people, and refuse to protect or help others, which he describes as governed by “light opera tyrants,” will not wash, even if we could really know how some of the doubtful cases (Nasser, for example, or Nkru-mah, or Ayub, or Sukarno, or Stalin) matched the ambassador’s rubrics.
Our basic national interest, all would I think agree, is in helping to achieve a wide zone of peace in the world, within which the United States and other nations could pursue the arts of human progress, separately and together. The possibility of peaceful co-existence, as we have learned in twenty strenuous years, is a complex and dynamic process, involving both “containment” and “collaboration.” Only the Truman Doctrine, and its gradual acceptance by the Soviet Union as a fair foundation for the relationships of the two systems, has permitted a sense of détente to develop in Europe, and the emergence of polycentric tendencies within the Communist movement.
The basic idea of that tacit understanding between ourselves and the Soviet Union is, I believe, that unilateral changes in the boundary line between the two systems, or changes achieved by force, are too dangerous to the general peace to be tolerated. Thus, many who criticized our government in 1947 for helping Greece resist a civil war aided from abroad now concede that they were wrong, and that President Truman was right on that occasion, despite the fact that the Greek government at the time was widely criticized as “reactionary.” And all, I think, would agree that it would be intolerably dangerous for the West to assist an attempt to overthrow the East German regime by force, although no one has yet described that regime as identified with the hopes and aspirations of the German people.
Let us apply Mr. Galbraith’s two Laws to an episode like the Hungarian uprising of 1956, in the perspective of these realities. There can be no doubt that the Stalinist regime in Hungary before 1956 was a “privileged group,” serving and protecting privilege, in Mr. Galbraith’s sense, or that the uprising led by the youth of the country represented “the hopes and aspirations” of the Hungarian people. Would Mr. Galbraith have said that the principles of liberalism required us to support that uprising and join in “the day of the people,” despite the risk of war with the Soviet Union some thought such a course would have involved? Would he have sacrificed all the slow gains of détente achieved through the prudent and limited application of the Truman Doctrine, for a cast of the dice to ecraser I’infâme?
It is easy to understand that the frustrations of an ambassador’s life lead even a philosophical ambassador like Professor Galbraith to disparage the State Department staff as a fashionable “Establishment,” addicted to dictators and incapable of leaping to the barricades in behalf of the people and their rights. In view of the support our foreign policy has given to India, Ceylon, Indonesia, Venezuela, Mexico, Chile, Burma, Yugoslavia, and many other progressive governments in the postwar period, to say nothing of our staunch support for the European movement, this aspect of Professor Gal-braith’s speech is a puzzle I haven’t yet resolved.
Eugene V. Rostow
New Haven, Connecticut
To the Editor:
It is a brave liberal indeed who would presume to question the wit, wisdom, experience, and sophistication of John K. Galbraith on U.S. foreign policy. But in his laudable desire to encourage détente in the cold war, Mr. Galbraith makes a number of questionable assumptions. . . .
For example, his description of the origins of postwar liberal anti-Communism in this country leaves much to be desired. “Some liberals,” he writes, “had always doubted that individual liberty was compatible with democratic centralism” (read Communism). Only some? One would have thought that any definition of the word “liberal” would automatically include opposition to any form of totalitarian thought control. To impute, as Galbraith does, the anti-Communism of American liberals largely to disillusionment with Stalin is to do scant justice to the large number who never had any illusions to start with either about Stalin or about the nature of Communism. . . .
No exception can be taken to Galbraith’s insistence on a liberal foreign policy. We should identify with the aspirations of the people; we should adhere to the rule of law; we should change our foolishly shortsighted opposition to the admission of mainland China to the UN; we should continue our aid program. To do all this, says Galbraith, requires a foreign policy run by liberals. But we have had an administration headed by liberals since 1960. Has the State Department, then, been carrying out a conservative foreign policy in defiance of the President?
It is both hypocritical and highly unflattering to exculpate President Johnson, as Galbraith does, from responsibility for our Vietnam policy. While Johnson did not initiate it, he has had two-and-a-half years to change it. If he does not agree with it, he stands guilty of weakness, indifference, or a total lack of leadership. While the President has many faults, these particular ones have not been successfully charged against him. As for Galbraith’s belief that the President has been a force for a change in the old policy, all the evidence points in the other direction.
The fact is that the administration policy in Vietnam is the liberal policy. If John Kennedy were alive, it would be the same in substance, although different in style. The policy that Galbraith recommends is the new liberalism, which is hardly distinguishable from the old conservatism. “Vietnam is not important to us,” Mr. Galbraith writes. “Had it been lost in 1954, no one would now be thinking of it.” Shades of Neville Chamberlain, Gerald Nye, Father Coughlin, and Hamilton Fish: one can hear the ghostly echo of Charles Lindbergh proclaiming in 1941, “We must not send our boys to fight in foreign wars that are no concern of ours.”
By all means let there be détente in the cold war. Let the struggle of ideas continue. But free men must be the keepers of their brothers’ freedom, lest they lose their own. Ask not for whom the bell tolls. . . .
To the Editor:
. . . In laying down the gospel on foreign policy, Mr. Galbraith would have the United States oppose authoritarian regimes lest we come out on the short end when “the day of the people arrives.” This particular dictum . . . is patently discredited and disastrous. Throughout most of Africa, for instance, it has led to tyrannies more formidable than any the colonials constructed. With the kind of good intentions spawned in Mr. Galbraith’s brave new world, the U.S. needs no foreign enemies.
Robert R. Richardson
New York City
To the Editor:
Though the eminent John Kenneth Galbraith assumes the liberal mantle with apparent ease in his article, this does not necessarily mean that it fits. I believe that someone who can propose the following comparison is lacking in fundamental human feeling (which, after all, is the prime ingredient of liberalism):
The humorless misachievements of the men who got us into the jungles of Vietnam must not be allowed to obscure the merits of far more liberal and astute achievements here at home. Our gains under the Johnson administration on civil rights far outweigh our losses in behalf of Marshal Ky.
Mr. Galbraith talks of “our gains,” but isn’t he forgetting somebody—the Vietnamese for instance?
Jed B. Golden
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . On page 31 of his article Mr. Galbraith chides right-wingers for identifying personal liberty with impersonal “property” and impersonal “profits.” But then in his own recommendations on Vietnam, three paragraphs later, he associates our goals of achieving personal freedom for our Vietnamese allies with impersonal “areas” he would have us retreat into and defend, thereby becoming passive accomplices in the slaughter and enslavement of the South Vietnamese. . . .
To the Editor:
. . . While Mr. Galbraith outlines . . . the problems of the environment which every city planner and architect has known for years (though the public has never paid the slightest attention), and says that “development must be within the framework of control,” he never mentions the concept of planning. It is high time that every liberal understood that within the next ten or fifteen years, every bit of usable land will be senselessly wasted in our fast-growing urban areas, unless we act, and act fast. . . .
Even city planning is no longer enough. We need metropolitan and regional planning—because at the edge of . . . every city the same ungainly mess of commercial development is now rising; by now these areas stretch for miles along every uncontrolled highway. . . . Surely this is not in the interest of the public. . . .
The great American myth that land development is a purely private prerogative has resulted in the unspeakable condition of our cities which—with considerable justification—have been called the ugliest in the world. That they are also the most inhuman, . . . degrading, and . . . anti-social . . . is only slowly coming to light through the efforts of the sociologists. . . .
Fran P. Hosken
To the Editor:
. . . It would be charitable to say that Mr. Galbraith’s “Agenda” is disappointing. Like so many perceptive Americans speaking in the liberal tradition, he has permitted the war in Vietnam to mar his usual sharp candor. His rhetoric becomes fuzzy and apologetic as it touches the issues of war and peace. . . . He fails to assess our losses adequately and, worse, he implies that they are of little consequence. It is no comfort that Mr. Galbraith defends President Johnson as a force for restraint while attacking administration policies. . . .
“But, fortunately,” Mr. Galbraith writes, “the cost in money [in Vietnam] has so far been larger than in lives.” . . . How much does Mr. Galbraith believe a life is worth? At what point does the loss of one more life become intolerable and prohibitive? In subtle fashion, Mr. Galbraith has disposed of a liberal’s concern with human life; the loss of some lives in a “little war” is made to appear acceptable.
Mr. Galbraith has joined the “dawks,” a particular kind of liberal who flies with both the doves and the hawks. What other conclusion can be drawn when after first defending the sanctity of international law. . . . he ignores his own admonition further on in the article by urging us to remain in Vietnam?
We are bombing and burning innocent men, women, and children; we use napalm, noxious gas-ses, and torture as military policy in an undeclared war to defend those who have “joined our enterprise.” We have violated our sovereign word to accept the Geneva Agreements. . . . We have done violence to our national honor by failing to submit our cause to the United Nations before assaulting a defenseless country, and we are escalating the war and pursuing this aggressive policy with obsessive fury. Senator Fulbright has suggested that we are victims of the fatal arrogance of power. Since we cannot “easily be shoved out” of Vietnam, Mr. Galbraith confirms this continuing demonstration of the erosion of reason. . . .
A “big” war may involve us with the Chinese and the Russians; Mr. Galbraith argues that a little war may not. I am not reassured by his confidence. A “little” war can become a “big” war and the alternatives are frightening to my kind of liberalism.
But I find an even graver ailment in the “Agenda.” Mr. Galbraith says, “The first liberal task is to work for necessary and urgent public services.” While we recklessly escalate our undeclared war, we de-escalate our declared war on poverty under the battering ram of our fiscal needs in Vietnam. . . . Again, Mr. Galbraith, an eminent economist, ignores “the first liberal task” and is curiously silent about the effect of the war in Vietnam on necessary and urgent public services.
While we are spending $13 billion this year on our Vietnam adventure, and an estimated $17 billion is planned for 1967, we are consistently whittling away our expenditures for public services. Our earlier budget of $3 billion fur the war on poverty has been cut to an estimated $1.75 billion; the President has requested $170 million instead of the $500 million authorized for facility grants; we are using $67 million of the $416 million authorized for school operation expenses; we have reduced the $700 million authorized for higher education to $402 million; we will use $239 million of the $500 million authorized under the National Defense Education Act; the budget for regional medical expenses has been cut from $90 million to $43 million; the $65 million allotted to community health centers has been cut to $50 million; there has been a proposal to cut the $93 million authorized by Congress for health research construction grants to $15 million; Mr. Weaver and the new Department of Housing and Urban Development, previously allocated the sum of $117 million, will be asked to get along on $35 million; neighborhood facility grants were reduced from $88 million to $25 million; and one of our major losses on behalf of Marshal Ky was the unconscionable slash at the federal milk subsidy for schoolchildren.
As Mr. Galbraith so aptly says, “No liberal should fail to point out that it is the poor who pay.” Obviously Mr. Galbraith has failed to do so; regrettably, he has permitted the war in Vietnam to blunt his liberal perceptions.
Amalgamated Clothing Workers
New York City
To the Editor:
While much of John Kenneth Galbraith’s “Agenda for American Liberals” makes sense, he repeats one liberal myth which deserves reexamination. “Public services,” he writes, “are highly progressive in their incidence. Almost all—public schools, public colleges and universities, public parks, good and well-paid police, good health services, good public transportation, even clean streets—render their greatest service to the poor. . . .”
I am surprised that anyone would make such a claim in the mid-60′s, after so much contrary evidence had been piled up by protesting Negroes. Clearly, even intelligent liberals of imagination and goodwill have trouble taking the radical critique of America seriously. At the risk of seeming tiresome, let me reiterate the case, using education as the example. The American educational system almost invariably spends more educating the rich than the poor. This inequity is most marked when one compares rich to poor districts, but it persists even when one compares rich and poor neighborhoods within a single district. It is particularly marked if, instead of comparing annual expenditures, you compare expenditures over a student’s entire lifetime, for middle-class children tend to enroll in school earlier and stay longer than the poor. While reliable statistics on the subject are difficult to gather, a good rule of thumb is that a child from the top quarter of the income distribution will get twice as much tax subsidy for education over his lifetime as a child from the bottom quarter.
In the field of higher education, this inequity is even more dramatic. Very few poor students enroll in public colleges, and (contrary to popular mythology) a great many wealthy ones do. A recent survey at the University of California, for example, showed a third of the students coming from families earning more than $15,-000. The best statistics I can get indicate that such families pay less than a third of California’s taxes. Conversely, about five per cent of the University of California’s students come from families with less than $4000 per year; such families pay appreciably more than five per cent of California’s taxes. Legislative appropriations for the University of California, then, far from taxing the rich to help the poor, do precisely the opposite. Nor is the University of California so atypical as many think. Evidence on income distributions at other state universities is fragmentary and estimates of state tax burdens are tricky, but it appears that most state universities are squeezing the very rich and the poor in order to subsidize the middle classes. Only the much maligned former teachers’ colleges and junior colleges typically give lower-income families back more in service than they cost them . . . in taxes.
Happily, there is some evidence that these inequities are diminishing. Federal assistance to public schools, for example, has recently been concentrated on the poorest districts, and on the poorest schools within districts. State expenditures on higher education have also been shifting away from residential state universities serving largely upper-middle-class students toward commuter colleges which typically serve lower-income students. Professor Galbraith is therefore probably correct to argue that cutting back on public expenditures for education will hurt the poor more than anyone else, for the cuts are likely to be in new, fast-growing programs, aimed especially at the poor. But he is certainly not correct in arguing that the overall pattern of expenditure now favors the poor.
The most that can be said for the present system of public spending, at least in the field of education, is that it is less inequitable than the income distribution as a whole. This means that a poor child’s chances of getting a fair shake in the school system, while far from satisfactory, are probably better than his chances of getting a fair shake from most other institutions. Perhaps this is all one can realistically expect in a highly stratified society. An educational system which attempted to follow Galbraith’s advice and spend more on the poor than on the rich would probably be unable to win electoral support for the required tax increases. The upper-middle classes are, after all, more interested in ensuring that their own children get “the best” than in making American institutions conform to the rhetoric of equal opportunity. When the two objects conflict, as they inevitably do, the latter is bound to be sacrificed.
Institute for Policy Studies
Mr. Galbraith writes:
As the houses of the best carpenters suffer from neglect and, notoriously, the health of the best physicians, so, clearly, does the use of evidence by the best lawyers. My case was uncomplicated: Nothing has so damaged our foreign policy in our time as the belief that liberalism is a domestic faith. Overseas national interest and expediency regularly combine to justify support of governments that Americans would not tolerate for a moment and which offer nothing or in fact considerably less to their own people. The evidence lies in the consequences in the last twenty years of our support of Batista, Trujillo, Perez-Jimenez, sundry minor Central-American caudillos, General Phoumi Nosavan (he of Laos), the Ngo family, and several Levantines whose names mercifully are mostly lost to history. To refute this overwhelming and staggeringly dismal proposition, Dean Ros-tow goes all the way back to a feckless Greek government of 1947, and to that all alone. And by the recurrent miracle of assertion, he makes that action decisive for all later relations with the Soviets. This being the evidence for and against, I couldn’t be happier in leaving my case to the readers. I find it hard to imagine that I will lose, except to eccentricity and the most determined perversity, so much as a single vote.
Two lesser points: Dean Ros-tow’s reference to Hungary, unless it be dust in the juryman’s eye, is inexplicable. We did not support the postwar Stalinist governments in Eastern Europe. We have given moral, and in the case of Yugoslavia and Poland, highly tangible support to the post-Stalinist liberalization. This accords with my argument. It also seems to have worked. Support obviously does not always mean sending in troops.
With Dean Rostow’s civilized concern for a detente, I of course concur. And this marks a most important difference between his position and those with whom I have my major quarrel.
The additional letters reached me after I had answered Dean Rostow at length. Let me confine myself to one disputed point, namely my suggestion that President Johnson had been a force for restraint in Vietnam. As compared with the old-line automatic anti-Communists and the Joint Chiefs, there was reason, I think, to believe he was at the time I wrote last spring. Since the bombing of the environs of Hanoi and Haiphong, a step that seems to have been motivated partly by domestic politics and the polls, I am less sure. I certainly hope for return to restraint but meanwhile I must concede something to my critics.