“The Globalization of Public Opinion” | Institute of Economic Affairs, London, United Kingdom | 06.14.00


On 14 June 2000, the Institute of Economic Affairs in London hosted an evening of dinner and discussion with the White House Writers Group. In attendance were members of Parliament, journalists and business representatives. Peter Robinson, Daniel Casse, Mark Davis and Clark Judge represented the Group. The president of the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute, Sally Pipes, and PRI’s chairman, Daniel Oliver, also attended. Over dessert, IEA’s general director, John Blundell, led the evening’s discussion. Before dinner, Mr. Judge delivered the following reflections on the globalization of public opinion:


Thank you, John (Blundell).

Let me say, John, it’s an honor for my colleagues (Daniel Casse, Mark Davis, Peter Robinson) and me to come here.

Daniel has just come from Austin, Texas, where he spent two weeks advising and writing speeches for the Bush campaign.

Peter has just completed a major book on the Republican Party, to be published next month.

Mark and Daniel served in the Bush White House. Peter and I served in the Reagan White House.

So to find ourselves in this the intellectual home of Margaret Thatcher, in this the first of Sir Antony Fisher’s string of almost 100 think tanks in nearly 60 countries, in this the place where John Blundell is giving brilliant leadership to those who are applying free-market thinking to a new world of challenges, for us to be invited here this evening gratifies us more than I can say.

With us also and in many ways responsible for this evening is the remarkable leader of a remarkable U.S. free-market think tank, Pacific Research Institute: Sally Pipes. If Sally were running a company, every business journal in America would list her among the country’s best CEOs.

Almost a year and a half ago, Sally first nudged the White House Writers Group towards developing a relationship with the IEA. She suggested that, on a business trip here, I meet with Lord Harris, which I did.

When Ralph Harris opened the doors of IEA in 1957, many apostles of free markets and freedom believed that freedom would ultimately lose. Government was rational, freedom was chaos, or so it was supposed, even among many of freedom’s champions.

Lord Harris started IEA at about the same time that William F. Buckley started National Review, and on opposite sides of the Atlantic, these two voices – together with those of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek – began to turn the free world’s thinking around. As we who follow them look at the task before us, we might remember, they had the hard job. They won the great victory. To us is left the essential but still far easier job of tidying up.

Essential. Less difficult. But at times perplexing. As the successors of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, where do we go from here? In the United States the fall of the Berlin Wall was followed by the election and reelection of Bill Clinton. Here, at least until recent weeks, Labor has seemed all but invincible. The political parties carrying the free-market banner seem to have lost the initiative and been placed on the defensive.

One reason (perhaps one of the chief reasons) for this new defensiveness has been the rise to prominence of a new group of issues – including environmental issues such as those concerning genetically modified organisms.

Tonight I’m not going to talk — very much at least — about the way science and economics put the lie to notions of global warming… nor to claims that genetically modified foods are dangerous… nor about the way that “save the earth” has replaced “workers of the world unite” as the battle cry of extreme statists… nor about the force of markets in policies that actually improve the environment and human well-being. IEA, PRI, Hoover and others are doing an admirable job of developing and implementing the intellectual case for free-market environmentalism.

Rather, I am going to suggest that more is going on here than responses to dirty water and hot air or the last hurrah of statist ideologues. My thesis is that these environmental issues are the most prominent signs of a phenomenon that is quite hopeful for free-market advocates. That phenomenon is a new globalization of public opinion.

I have three propositions:

Proposition number one. That particularly between the Untied States and Britain a common transnational structure of public opinion has emerged in recent years. I believe this common structure permeates our national political lives. Look at some recent elections.

In January John Blundell spoke at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. He described why New Labor won in 1997. He portrayed an election with record low turnout, in which a party long exiled from control of the government won with only 43 percent of the vote, benefiting from a surge in the strength of third parties. He described a new head of government who embraces much of the program of those he unseated, rides high in the polls, loves think-ins and other displays of non-ideological intelligence and mixes, as John put it, “interfering authoritarianism with pro-enterprise liberalism.”

As I say, John’s subject was 1997 in Britain but with hardly a detail changed, John could have been speaking of 1992 and 1996 in the United States. When President Bush broke his no new taxes pledge in 1990 he created a disaffected group within the GOP coalition, much as scandal and confusion about program did for the Major government here. This group split from the Republican Party in 1992, some going to Perot, some staying home, a few going over to Clinton. They stayed away in 1996.

The main challenge for George W. Bush in 2000 is to bring back the Perot voters while boosting the turnout of the Republican base. We can discuss Governor Bush during the question period it you’d like, but I believe he stands a very good chance of succeeding.

I believe that Governor Bush stands a good chance in large measure because of a shift in American opinion – a shift that once again illustrates the new, INTERNATIONAL structure of public opinion.

In the United States, as it appears to be here in Britain and even on the Continent, we are looking at slipping popularity and continuing public distrust of Third Way figures.

Part of the reason is not just that the Clinton-Gore philosophy is vague, but rather that it is not what it seems to be. Despite their rhetoric, these men are not pro-market. They aren’t anti-market either. They have no concept of the marketplace. They are pro-business, but as someone said, they are pro-business one business at a time.

Helping particular businesses rather than promoting markets has become, predictably enough, the rewarding of friends and punishing of non-friends or those whose friendship counts for less than a competitor’s. For example, it may be a coincidence that Microsoft is headquartered in a small state with few electoral votes and that the prime advocates of the federal anti-trust case against the company are major players in a swing region of the largest state in the nation. But we’ve had enough such coincidences in recent year to make one think otherwise.

So you see, it isn’t just trouble with interns that has led the public to see the Administration as morally ambiguous. You may recognize some of these ambiguities as part of the current British scene. There is a growing reason to suspect that, far from being a new way, in both the U.S. and the U.K., the Third Way may prove to have been a non-threatening holding area where voters parked the government and waited for the faded free-market forces to regain their vitality and sense of purpose. In any event, I’m suggesting that we see in these tides of political fortune a common dynamic driving British and American public opinion alike and through it, our politics.

Proposition number two: On environmental issues first but increasingly on other issues, we are seeing the same entwinement developing in European and British and American public opinion.

Take opposition to genetically modified organisms, about which events in the U.K. and Europe are driving attitudes in the United States.

Greenpeace’s attacks on the experimental technology designed to limit the reproductive capacity of genetically modified seeds took hold first in the U.K. and Europe, then spread to America.

Similarly, two years ago the British scientific journal Nature published a now-famous “scientific correspondence” in lieu of an article it had rejected. It dealt with a Cornell University study of the effects on Monarch butterfly larva of pollen from a corn variety designed to require fewer chemical pesticides. In force-fed laboratory conditions, a lot of the larva died. It’s since been shown that these conditions were almost totally unlike any in the field, but never mind. An uproar developed in Germany, spread to here, only later to America.

Hearing the drumbeat from Europe early, in 1994 the EPA with the encouragement of Vice President Gore started regulating seed genetically designed to require fewer pesticides as if they WERE pesticides. The Vice President appears to be looking for a way to incorporate European-style “green” themes into his presidential campaign.

But as I’ve said, these environmental flaps may simply be leading indicators of a larger change in the structure of public opinion – and as they always do in democracies, politicians follow the people. So German child custody law was reportedly on the agenda when President Clinton and Chancellor SchrÖder met recently. Our death penalty has started to become an issue both here and on the Continent. As a German foreign ministry official recently said, “What we now have with the United States is a relationship so close that it is quasi-domestic.” He added, “That is why emotional issues like genetically altered food or the way we treat the children of international divorces rise to the surface.”

Which brings me to proposition number three. These changes are ultimately good news for free-market advocates — if we take advantage of them.

In an article that first appeared in the Wilson Quarterly, Seymour Martin Lipset, an eminent American political scientist, writes about the move of one socialist party after another, from Britain to Sweden and Denmark to Spain, Germany and Italy away from the Neil Kinnock hard left towards something, as he puts it, “far more like the Democrats and Republicans, instead of socialists and capitalists.”

Lipset argues, his words again, “Many political analysts here and abroad still do not fully appreciate the extent to which the left’s new course, its centrist Third Way, is the product of common developments throughout the economically advanced democracies rather than of events or leaders peculiar to each country.”

These changes include the decline of national working classes and the increase in middle class numbers, the availability of advanced education, the growing economic productivity that has diminished lifestyle differences among Europe’s classes, the decline of unionism, the rise of the knowledge and service industries, the new ease of global communications and travel, and the rising appeal to young people of self-employment and entrepreneurship, which is in part a result of all these other developments.

A young German entrepreneur tells me how inhospitable Germany is to entrepreneurship compared to the U.S. He is surely right. But he and every one of his friends are starting or involved with new businesses. During the last year, at least half a dozen American venture capital firms have opened offices on the Continent.

Many if not all of the developments I’ve mentioned go hand in hand with the success to date of free-market policies. Simply put, it is the success of free markets around the world has led to that entwinement or globalization of public opinion.

By the way, although I am talking about globalization, I am NOT making one more argument for some sort of pan-European superstate or for giving greater powers for the United Nations. Far from it. It is difficult to see how the triumph of free markets could ever have occurred if at least two nations – the United States and Britain – hadn’t retained their individual sovereignty, enabling Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to enact policies at radical odds with those of the rest of the industrialized world. Although it’s not for me to tell Britons what to do about Europe, I myself hope that both the United States and the United Kingdom retain their scope of independent action.

My argument is, instead, that there are huge and transforming tides driven by demographics, technology, financial market developments, easier exposure to the wider world, and the success of market economies that are beginning to make public opinion in Europe and globally more open to free-market thinking than at any time in history.

Where in turn does that leave us?

Three thoughts:

First, on the issues like the environment where we have played a defensive game, our position is stronger than we think. The White House Writers Group was heavily involved in helping to pass the China free trade bill through the House of Representatives. As part of that effort we looked at polling and focus group tests of the arguments coming from the other side — in particular “race to the bottom” rhetoric comparing it to the “richer equals cleaner” arguments. At least to American audiences, richer equals cleaner was so compelling and unanswerable that pollsters recommended placing it among the leading arguments for normalizing the U.S.’ trading relationship with China.

Likewise, in the battles between corporations and environmental activists that our Group has managed, we have found that while free-market alternatives are greeted with puzzlement at first, they can quickly win a large measure of popular support, if argued for properly. The lesson here is that companies and free-market political leaders CAN win environmental confrontations, if they are candid, clearly define and acknowledge the public’s legitimate interests, and put forward solid market-based proposals.

Let me repeat that: companies and free-market advocates, we have found, CAN indeed win arguments about the environment and similar issues.

Second, we should take note of the attempts of Mr. Clinton and others to form a broader Third Way transnational coalition. They sense the globalization of public opinion. They don’t know quite how to respond to it and haven’t done it very well to date. But they’re trying to figure out how. We should resolve to solve that puzzle before they do. My view is that among other things we need to be building up free-market think tanks across the Continent.

Finally, I believe that the free-market forces in the United States and Britain – the world’s centers of free-market thinking — need to develop a common program for building political pressure on the E.U. for free-market reform. My own preference is to put Conrad Black’s proposal for U.K. admission into NAFTA squarely on the table. A U.K. that is willing to walk out of the E.U. will have far more bargaining power within the E.U.

At the outset of this talk, I mentioned that the task before us was tidying up. The great battle of the 20th century was between totalitarianism and freedom. The great battle of the 21st century is between the forces of creative destruction and those of destructive preservation. At the moment, outside of the U.S., the U.K. and parts of Asia, the forces of stagnation may seem to have the upper hand. But then, fifty years ago, when Lord Harris began his work, truly sinister and unimaginably powerful forces seemed to many people to have all but won the day. Our task is nothing compared to that one then. So with the courage and ultimate triumph of Lord Harris’ generation as our example and inspiration, let us give the present task our imagination, our energy, our dedication and our daring. Do that and we will surely win freedom’s next great fight.

Thank you.

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