If Merle Kling Could Have Met Brian Doherty
By Arnold Kling
Imagine in 1958 an innocent Associate Professor of Political Science spending a summer in Mexico and getting mixed up with these guys:
A considerable number of the folletos, almost half, originally were prepared by foreign, non-Mexican authors…Fred Clark, of the American Economic Foundation; Professor Floyd A. Harper, of the Foundation for Economic Education…William Henry Chamberlain, journalist; Professor Ludwig von Mises, of New York University; and Professor F.A. Hayek…Among the foreign residents who contributed to the Hojas are: John C. Sparks, of the Foundation for Economic Education;…Henry Hazlitt, a writer on economic topics in the United States…and Wilhelm Ropke
This is from p. 47 of A Mexican Interest Group in Action, by Merle Kling. All of the names listed above subsequently appear in the index of Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism. Only a few names, that I skipped over, do not, but they might have been in the same mold.I don’t think that my father had any idea what he was dealing with when he chose the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales y Economicas for his empirical study. Kling and a research assistant conducted a meticulous content analysis of the publications of the Instituto, which enabled him to extract what he called 14 “themes.” My guess is that he found them too bizarre to dignify them by calling them ideas. They are listed on pages 50-53. Some excerpts:
5. Governmental controls imposed upon segments of the economy are unfair, illegal, and injurious. Price and rent controls are prejudicial to the interests of the consumer; and once established, they tend to endure…
6. Government-supported monopolies, semiofficial state enterprises, and subsidies are reprehensible forms of state economic intervention. A controlled, planned, or managed economy is not efficient and benefits only selected groups in society; such intervention, consequently, results in disorder and a decline in productivity, investment, and creativity…
7. Socialism…is bad in all its forms. Hence the Instituto, for purposes of adverse evaluation, lumps together the economic system of the Soviet Union, the postwar program of the Labor Party in Great Britain, the economic policies of Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini, the welfare features of the “New Deal” in the United States…and the Swedish “middle way.” All of these manifestations of socialism stifle a competitive free market, increase benefits for administrative elites, and depreciate individual freedom…
14. Workers and employers share essentially the same interests…Such concepts as “class conflict” and “dictatorship of the proletariat” represent misleading propaganda spread by demagogues.
The ideas of the Instituto may sound reasonable to many of us, but you can be sure that in 1958 they sounded bizarre to Merle Kling. The 14th one, in particular, contradicted what everyone “knew” at that time. Indeed, my mind boggles wondering what would have happened had my father “drunk the Kool-Aid,” so to speak (there was Kool-Aid in those days, but the famous psychedelic additive had not yet entered the culture).
Instead, Kling held New Deal, American center-left views, and from that perspective, all right-wingers looked the same to him. My mother had only recently been relieved of the threat of prosecution, stemming from a two-year old indictment for failure to name names at a hearing of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. My guess is that my father found the Mexican propagandists more civilized than the House Commie-hunters, but just as kooky.
He must have gone there thinking that he was going to see a political organization funded by businessmen to promote business interests. That is, he was thinking he would find them within what I call his “rational core” of interest-group politics. Much of the book describes them as if that is what they were, but he does notice a number of anomalies. On p. 57,
The Instituto staff recognizes the discrepancies between its own orthodoxies and the perception of interests held by officials of the home corporation of the president of the Instituto.
In this context, he is referring to Monsanto chemical, whose home corporation official was Chairman Edgar M. Queeny, who Kling describes as “an outspoken advocate of protective tariffs,” citing various public statements. Incidentally, one of the wings of Barnes Hospital in St. Louis is Queeny Tower.
Further on p. 57-59
The [American] automobile companies, as the Instituto staff sees it, are content to operate within a framework of restricted production and tariffs…and to enjoy the profits of high prices without the necessity of intensive sales campaigns…
antagonism between the Instituto and certain Mexican business interests assumes a more overt and active form; for the general program of the Instituto, particularly its lack of enthusiasm for tariff protection, runs counter to strong nationalistic currents in Mexican business…
As an advocate of the entry of foreign capital into Mexico, the Instituto inevitably finds itself in a state of tension with sectors of Mexican business…
My father saw the ideological commitment of the staff, but he seems to have thought of it as something of a put-on. On p. 10,
A leading member of the staff…[says that] the interest of the Instituto require that it project an image to the “Right” of any extant Mexican policy. Such a tactic, he believes, will make it possible for Mexican businessmen and government officials to embrace seemingly conservative policies and still [appear] “Centrist” or “Moderate”–since the Instituto always will be to their “Right.”
Overall, my sense is that my father could not grasp what the subjects of his investigation were saying. He assumed that they were serving the interests of powerful businesses, including American corporations. So little of their ideology penetrated that by the time I started writing similar things he had forgotten that he had seen them all those many years ago.
Anyway, that’s my hypothesis. It’s too late to test it.
UPDATE: On p. 56, Merle Kling wrote,
the concept of politics, as employed in this study, implies relationships of conflict among individuals and groups as they seek to augment their power in the pursuit of material or less tangible values that are available in insufficient quantity to satisfy all who are motivated to compete for them.
That is what I call rational, insider politics, where interest groups fight over power. He saw the Instituto in those terms, fighting for the interests of American capital in Mexico. In his concluding chapter, on p. 65, after documenting the increase in American investment in Mexico since the second World War:
The influx of this fresh foreign capital into manufacturing correlates with the formation of the Instituto…This study implies that the official party in Mexico [the PRI] no longer integrates all of the powerful economic interests of the country
[emphasis in the original] I want to go back and say, “Dad, these guys are not insider politics. They are outsider politics. They are true believers. They are not members of the Country Club. They are extremists throwing bricks through the window of the PRI country club. You were on the right track in the chapter on how the group gets finances, on p. 23, when you wrote about the Institute’s key figure, its director, Licenciado Agustin Navarro Vazquez,”
Academicians constitute an important reference group for Navarro. He views ideological issues with the utmost seriousness, and professors are persons of status to him. He deplores the need to engage in fund-raising, since he wishes to spend his time in promoting the doctrines of the Instituto through publications and speeches. He is willing to be regarded as a crusader. He participates in the round tables organized by the School of Economics of the National University, although he finds the ideological leanings of the School out of line with his own. Sometimes he expounds his beliefs so forcefully in this arena that he exposes himself to heckling; at one round table, at which he denounced the nationalization of the mining industry, his opponents charged he was a “traitor.” Nevertheless, opportunities to take part in polemical debates offer an irresistible attraction for him.
I suspect that after Navarro died, he was reincarnated as Don Boudreaux. Kling continues,
He is not content to obtain organizational advantages; rather he is anxious that the intellectual quality of his literary products should be appreciated. He thus deviates from the prevailing model of the “organization man” in the United States. He pointedly reveals that he does not play golf.
Despite all of these sources of misgivings, Kling was determined to cast the group in the role of insider politics. Returning to his conclusions, on p. 66 Kling wrote,
This study yields the hypothesis that ideological marginality does not correlate with economic marginality or marginality in the area of government decision-making. The doctrines of the Instituto are not within the mainstream of Mexican revolutionary ideology; but members of the Instituto represent some of the most powerful business interests of postwar Mexico and, as individuals, enjoy ready access to key government officials. Even casual reflection points to evidence that this phenomenon is not confined to Mexico. Some of the most potent businessmen in the United States, who must maintain continuous contact with governmental administrators, provide financial support for “right-wing” groups which propagate ideological views on the “fringe” of the dominant American consensus. In Great Britain, some of the most articulate spokesmen of the Labor Party have professed a doctrinaire socialism marginal to the British consensus.
The next point in Kling’s conclusion concerns the issue of foreign capital. In a recent Presidential campaign, the PRI candidate had appeared to side with those who viewed American capital as “economic aggression.” In contrast, Kling notes that the candidate attended meetings of an economists (at which Instituto members were marginal participants) and that in the end (p.67) “his administration continued to welcome foreign capital.”
Recall that the book’s title is A Mexican Interest Group in Action. Kling wanted so much to fit the group into a paradigm of insider politics, representing the interest of foreign capital. What he had stumbled on was a group that would be recognizable today as libertarian freaks (the term libertarian was not in use in those days; nor was the term “freak” employed as it is now). The book is accurate in its details, but the language and the ideology of the group was so unfamiliar to him that he kept trying to put the square peg of their outsider politics into the round hole of insider interests.