Review: Michael Lind’s Land of Promise

By Hunter Wallace

I wasn’t expecting much from renowned South-hater Michael Lind’s Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

It was a real surprise that after 482 pages this turned out to be a pretty good book. I wasn’t left with any particular bone to pick in this review and was surprised that Lind had relied on so many sources (i.e., Ha-Joon Chang, Richard Bensel, George Borjas, Albert E. Eckes, Jr.) that his treatment of a number of important subjects matched so closely my own views. Much of Lind’s discussion of immigration and trade could have been lifted from Pat Buchanan’s books and columns.

As for the South, Lind’s overview of the South’s economic history – British economic colony until 1861, the Confederacy, American economic colony until 1933, the Sunbelt since 1940 – roughly matches my own view. Indeed, Lind explicitly acknowledges that the South and West were internal resource colonies of Yankeedom – essentially, the Mother Country – from the Union victory in the War Between the States until FDR was elected in the Great Depression. Few people grasp that the “New South” was the American version of Ireland. This subject will be discussed in much greater detail in my book.

Anyway, the South is just a sub-topic of Land of Promise, which mainly argues that the United States won its independence as a preindustrial society and has been remade by three industrial revolutions: the Age of Steam (the steam engine, telegraph, and railroad), the Motor Age (electricity and internal combustion engine), and the Information Age (computers, nuclear power). In each case, there has been a thirty to forty year time lag between technological and economic change and disruption of the existing political and legal structures.

Lind argues there have been three American Republics: the First Republic, which lasted from Washington to Lincoln, the Second Republic, which lasted from Lincoln to FDR, and the Third Republic, which lasted from FDR to Obama. According to Lind, we are now going through a turbulent transition period – the equivalent of the Civil War or Great Depression – to an undetermined Fourth Republic. Several scholars have argued that the constitutional departures of Lincoln and FDR were so radical that these two presidents effectively created new regimes.

Elsewhere, Lind has argued that the last president of each republic tends to be a failed leader – a James Buchanan or a Herbert Hoover, an embodiment of the previous discredited order who is unable to respond to a systemic crisis – and that the Fourth Republic began with Obama. Perhaps it is Obama though who better represents the last president in FDR’s line and the current crisis of the regime – driven by anxiety over trade, immigration, and terrorism – will bring Donald Trump to power as the first president of the Fourth Republic?

Surely, it is Trump rather than Hillary Clinton who best represents the breakdown of the post-war American-led world order, and it is Trump who is riding to power on all the perceived systemic failures of the Third Republic such as open borders and globalization. It is also Trump, not Clinton, who would disrupt the reigning constitutional order and radically change America’s position in the world. For that very reason, Trump is being denounced as a dangerous radical by the establishment, not unlike Lincoln and FDR were in their day.

Consider also that Trump has struck a Hamiltonian chord throughout the campaign on trade and infrastructure. Just last night, Trump used a question about terrorism to critique American foreign policy and to pivot to America’s collapsing infrastructure. While Trump gives lip service to Republican orthodoxy on a number of issues like taxes and healthcare, his checkered history suggests he really doesn’t believe any of it. On trade, Lincoln in office was a much greater departure than Lincoln the presidential candidate had been.

The Jeffersonian vs. Hamiltonian tradition is another major theme that runs through this book. At various times, Lind clarifies that this debate is really between the liberal tradition of economics (classical, neo-classical, Austrian) and the mercantilist tradition of economics (neo-mercantilist and developmental capitalism). After all, Jefferson and Madison changed their views on trade after the War of 1812. Lind is also sympathetic to the insights of Keynesianism.

In 1783, the United States started out as an overwhelmingly rural, agrarian society. By 1920, the United States was the wealthiest, most industrialized country in the world, and most Americans lived in urban areas. The South caught up with the rest of the country in urbanization and industrialization between the 1950s and 1970s. The household manufacturing of Jefferson’s time gave way to small-scale industry by the War Between the States which gave way to huge transnational corporations and oligopolies in many sectors.

We are now light years away from the world described by classical liberal economists. In telecommunications, just four firms – Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T control 97 percent of the US cellular phone market. In chemicals, DuPont and Dow Chemical recently announced a historic merger of the two largest chemicals corporations in the United States. Whether is the commercial airlines, aerospace (Boeing, Airbus), semiconductors (Intel), banking (Bank of America, Citi), mass media (Walt Disney, Time Warner, CBS, Viacom, NBC Universal and News Corp), or retail trade (Walmart, Target), oligopoly is now the rule.

As Lind notes, the economics of Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, and Frédéric Bastiat were obsolete by the 20th century:

“If the emperor Nicholas should venture to send 200,000 Muscovites, I sincerely believe that the best thing we could do would be to receive them well, to give them a taste of the sweetness of our wines, to show them our stores, our museums, the happiness of our people, the mildness and equality of our penal laws, after which we should say to them: Return as quickly as possible to your steppes and tell your brothers what you have seen.”

In 1849, the utopian free-trader Bastiat argued for the total, immediate and unilateral disarmament of France. Even with the examples of Poland and Napoleon’s defeat before him, he scoffed at the idea that France would ever be invaded by Prussia. In reality, Germany invaded France three times between 1870 and 1945.

It matters a great deal that Smith, Ricardo, Cobden, Say, Bastiat, Mises, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and the rest of the liberal economists and have so much sway over the American Right. Even if I disagree with Lind on other matters, Land of Promise is useful in stimulating thought outside of that paradigm.

8 Comments

  1. “Perhaps it is Obama though who better represents the last president in FDR’s line ….”

    Yes. That’s what we don’t yet know. The other day, redoubtably-liberal Slate.com posted an article about the latest aspect of Obamacare’s disintegration. You could almost smell the urine running down their legs, as one says.

    My own feeling remains what it was when you presented your first, startled Occidental Dissent post about Trump: it’s possible we’re witnessing something whose magnitude has not even begun to become apparent. Not until last night did I watch as much as a second of any one of the Republican debates; but as I watched Trump, for a minute or two, here and there, last night, I was struck by the unrealness of his presence behind that little lectern or whatever it was. One sensed–or I, at least, sensed–that he was simply biding his time, that he what doing what he deems necessary, to keep things calm, stable, as he rises amid the Lilliputians. His Tweet after Obama’s terrorism speech was revealing: “We need a new President–fast!” One more terrorist attack and Obama will simply step aside, to let Trump reign. Angela Merkel will be lucky if she ends up working in a soup kitchen.

    PS The Slate piece is http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2015/12/ppos_are_disappearing_from_obamacare_why.html (“What’s Happening to Obamacare’s PPOs?”).

  2. The idea that the South and West are mere colonial posessions of the North, seems to be reflected in the unconscious attitudes of many Northerners. Particularly the assumption that “America” is just the sixteen old Union states and that problems existing south of the Ohio river/Pennsylvania line and west of Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, are not really U.S./”American ” national problems. Hence the insouciance of many Northerners towards the troubles on the Mexican border or the water shortages in the West. Or the dismissal of complaints by Southerners and Westerners about outside inference in their state’s political processes and/or economies, as non existent, paranoia, ungratefulness or unpatriotic, or sour grapes and jealousy.

  3. Surely, it is Trump rather than Hillary Clinton who best represents the breakdown of the post-war American-led world order

    I think opposition to Trump has little to nothing to do with his trade policy than that he represent an ostensible break with the 1960s civil rights/immigration consensus. There is an implicit White identity/White interest component to his campaign. Unlike most Republicans over the last 25-30 years, Trump’s campaign isn’t centered about tax cuts. It’s not centered about universal propositions or America’s role in geopolitics. His campaign is centered about the interests of people. That’s the real difference with Trump. I think much of the same could have been said about Pat Buchanan.

  4. Here’s the main excerpt:

    “Other than replacing Britain as the informal hegemon of Central America and the Caribbean and acquiring some Pacific island bases that could serve as coaling stations for the US Navy and American trading vessels, the United States engaged in less imperialism than the other major powers. It did not need to. America had an internal empire. The people of the South, white and black alike, provided a captive consumer market for the manufactured goods of the factories in the Northeast and Midwest, and the mines of Appalachia and the sparsely settled West and later the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma supplied the industry of the American industrial core with cheap and abundant ore, coal, and oil. The integrated northeastern-midwestern industrial complex was a nation within a nation, the equivalent of Britain or Germany or France. The South and West were America’s India and Africa and Central Asia.

    In the 1870s, the North abandoned its effort to restructure southern society. Federal troops were pulled out of the South following the Compromise of 1877. The desire of the northeastern bankers, the prewar allies of the South, for a rapid resumption of exports of cotton picked by a subservient labor force was fulfilled. The interests of most white and black southerners alike were sacrificed to a bargain between northern and southern elites, which granted to the southern elite freedom to deal with its regional labor force as it pleased, in return for the South’s position as an internal resource colony and market for northern industry.

    The South’s share of US wealth shrank from 30 percent to 12 percent between 1860 and 1870. By 1880, the gap in per capita wealth between the North and South was comparable to that between Germany and Russia. Many of the profits from southern agriculture, timber, and mining flowed out of the region to investors in the North and Britain. Southerners subsidized northerners by consumption of northern-made goods protected by high tariffs and by their taxes, which paid for pensions for Union war veterans from which Confederate veterans were excluded.”

  5. Lind quotes Henry Grady:

    “I attended a funeral once in Pickens County in my State,” wrote Henry Grady, a prominent Southern newspaper editor. “This funeral was peculiarly sad. It was a poor ‘one gallus’ fellow, whose breeches struck him under the armpits and hit him at the other end about the knee – he didn’t believe in decollete clothes. They buried him in the midst of a marble quarry: they cut through solid marble to make his grave; and yet the little tombstone they put above him was from Vermont. They buried him in the heart of a pine forest, and yet the pine coffin was imported from Cincinnati. They buried him within touch of an iron mine, and yet the nails in his coffin and iron in the shovel that dug his grave were imported from Pittsburgh. They buried him by the side of the best sheep grazing country on the earth, and yet the wool in the coffin bands and the coffin bands themselves were brought from the North. The South didn’t furnish a thing on earth for that funeral but the corpse and the hole in the ground. They put him away and the clods rattled down on his coffin, and they buried him in a New York coat and a Boston pair of shoes and a pair of breeches from Chicago and a shirt from Cincinnati, leaving him nothing to carry into the next world with him to remind him of the country in which he lived, and for which he had fought for four years, but the chill of blood in his veins and the marrow in his bones.”

  6. Wow. No wonder y’all are so pissed at the Yankees!

    Great article, HW. This is more like it. Insights coupled with emotional appeals to a common race of Founding Stock…

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