Sunday, November 28, 2010

Author Interview: Colin Dueck on Libertarian and Conservative Approaches to U.S. Foreign Policy

Colin Dueck teaches at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, where he is associate professor of public and international affairs.  He is also the author of a new book, Hard Line:  The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy Since World War II.

On October 28, on the eve of an election that brought a new Republican majority to the House of Representatives, Dueck addressed an audience at the Heritage Foundation in Washington about his book.  In his lecture, he argued that the Republican approach to foreign policy has been remarkably consistent over the past six decades.

Dueck says in his book that “despite apparent oscillations between internationalism and isolationism, there has in fact been one overarching constant in conservative and Republican foreign policies for several decades now, namely, a hawkish and intense American nationalism.”

After his lecture, Dueck spoke briefly me about his book, about libertarian influences in conservative foreign policy making, and prospects for free trade after the election.

McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft
Dueck said he was motivated to write Hard Line as he “was reflecting on some of the changes that had taken place in U.S. and, specifically, Republican foreign policy after 9/11 -- the arguments for war in Iraq, the Bush doctrine, and so on.”

His original manuscript, he said, was 600 pages long and “started with [William] McKinley," he said.  “Then I talked to my editor,” who told him, “’This is totally out of control.’”

The first version of the book had chapters on McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and Henry Cabot Lodge, but, Dueck said, he “decided the story would hold together a little better with a start in World War II.”

He explained that the “main storyline is the decline of that anti-interventionist trend represented by Robert Taft.  That’s the big story in the Forties and Fifties.”

Anti-interventionist and Libertarian Strains
Taft represented what Dueck calls an “anti-interventionist” strain in foreign policy, with origins in libertarian thought.

Libertarian thinking, Dueck explained, “was prominent in the sense that for Taft and, actually, for most conservatives and most Republicans, the belief was that if the U.S. intervened, for example, in World War II, that you would get an expanded national security state -- big government, in a way.  So for Taft, the priority was ‘let’s avoid that at all costs.’  Therefore, that’s the argument for staying out of war.”

History, however, intervened.  As Dueck put it, “Obviously, Pearl Harbor settled the issue.”

That anti-interventionist tendency, he continued, “still persisted after the war and for somebody like William F. Buckley [it was a] major theme, but what trumped it eventually in the Fifties was a concern over Communism.”

What happened was, said Dueck, “in practical terms a lot of libertarians or libertarian-leaning conservatives [and] Republicans embraced this new consensus over the course of the Fifties, which was a more hawkish, anti-communist, cold war policy.”

Dueck did note that there were “important exceptions” to this trend, such as economist Murray Rothbard, “who was strictly libertarian.”

Rothbard, he said, “stuck to this anti-interventionist position throughout the Cold War and in that way, almost ended up having more in common with the New Left, beginning in the Sixties and Seventies.”

While Rothbard and his circle represented “an interesting strain,” Dueck said, “it was clearly not, politically [or] in practical terms in Congress, a major force in the Republican Party,” either in the Sixties and Seventies or “in the later Cold War period.”

Free Trade Policy
One foreign policy issue that generally divides Republicans and Democrats is free trade.

Asked whether a new Republican majority in Congress will affect the pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, Dueck replied:

“Well, that will really be up to President Obama.  There’s been no sign that he’s going to make that a priority.”

If Obama wanted to make free trade a priority, Dueck noted, “he might get more support from the next Congress than from the last one.”

The reason, he said, is that “at the end of the day, new Republican Members are going to be friendlier to these trade agreements than most Democrats have been.”

(This article originally appeared, in slightly different form, on on October 28, 2010.)

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Author Interview: Jason Mattera Writes About the 'Obama Zombies' Generation

As a political communicator, Jason Mattera is “platform agnostic.” He uses them all.

In addition to writing a popular book, Obama Zombies, the 26-year-old Mattera is editor of the venerable conservative weekly, Human Events, publisher of his own web site ( and the producer of humorous ambush videos featuring Members of Congress like Barney Frank and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. (One video, in which Minnesota Senator Al Franken tells Mattera to “shut up,” has had 172,660 views on YouTube.)

In an interview at a bloggers’ conference in Crystal City on the eve of the 9/12 Taxpayer March on Washington, Mattera – whose upbringing in Brooklyn, New York, is unmistakable in his dialect – told me he became active in conservative politics at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.

New York Times best-seller

“A few years ago,” he added, he “got hooked up with Michelle Malkin [and] was her TV correspondent at Hot Air.”

Then he wrote his book, Obama Zombies: How the Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation, which was published this year on March 10 and reached #14 on the New York Times best seller list by April 3.

After that, he said, he “moved on to editor of Human Events. So I’ve got my hands full right now.”

Mattera described Obama Zombies as “an investigative book about how Team Obama lobotomized an entire generation of young people to vote for him [in] the largest demographic swing in modern presidential history.”

In the book, he examines “what Barack Obama actually did right and what the Republicans can learn, especially in their new media outreach.”

Obama, Mattera said, “was our first Internet president. John McCain was an awful candidate overall but he was dreadful when it came to social networking and outreach [through] Facebook and YouTube videos.”

In addition, Mattera said, his book exposes “a lot of the Left’s fallacies that young people seem to digest so profusely nowadays [to] show that, if we don’t reach out to the next generation, not only are we in danger of losing elections, but there’s an entire group -- --hordes and hordes of people -- who are uninformed about the ideas of limited government, strong national defense, and free markets. That’s just unacceptable to me.”

Sarah Palin’s new media skills

Reacting to Newsweek political correspondent (now with the Huffington Post) Howard Fineman’s characterization of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as the “best Tweeter” among potential 2012 presidential candidates, Mattera said:

“Not only is she pretty robust on Twitter, but on Facebook as well. She’s generating news. She doesn’t have to write opeds and place them in the Wall Street Journal. She can write opeds and blast them out on her Facebook page.”

He added that Palin has “really utilized that. She’s certainly the only who has garnered huge enthusiasm [through] social networking.”

Comparing legacy media – such as Human Events – to new media – like Facebook and YouTube – Mattera said that “conservative ideas do not change but the manner in which you convey them must change. It’s maintaining the legacy of your past but with an eye toward the future. I don’t think it’s hard to bridge” the older platforms with the newer ones.

(This article originally appeared, in slightly different form, on on September 24, 2010.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Notes 5: In the Aftermath of 9/11

This review essay was published in The Metro Herald on September 28, 2001, under the general heading of "Fathoming the Unfathomable." It was a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks that month.

Book Round-Up:
New Publications Achieve Unintended Relevance
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Most publishing companies plan their seasonal lists far in advance. The lead time for a typical new book is at least a year, if not longer. Exceptions are made, of course, when current events dictate: Several “quickie” books came out after last year’s protracted election, for example, and we are no doubt going to see a number of books in the next few weeks about Osama bin Laden, terrorism, and Afghanistan that were either completely unplanned or in their early production stages when the events of September 11 caught us all (including publishers) by surprise.

It is rather chilling, then, to discover books on this fall’s lists that have remarkable relevance to the world since September 11. Here are a few of them.

Dr. Seuss Goes to War
The surge of patriotism in the wake of the terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and severely damaged the Pentagon has reminded more than one observer of the immediate aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. December 7 and September 11 are no two dates “that will live in infamy.” In putting the United States on a war footing, President Bush has invited comparisons to President Franklin Roosevelt, despite the fact that it is fairly clear that the 21st-century war against terrorism will not involve the sort of mass mobilization of the general population that characterized World War II.

With these parallels in mind, it is fascinating to examine – “read” is not the most appropriate word here – the new paperback edition of Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel, edited by Richard H. Minear (New York: The New Press, 272 pages, $17.95). The publication date was set for September 28 [2001].

Before he became the world’s most famous author and illustrator of children’s books, Dr. Seuss was a successful advertising artist, working in New York for Flit®, an insecticide as well-known in the 1930s as Raid® and Off® are today. (“Quick, Henry, the Flit!” was a popular catchphrase.) Living on a comfortable income from that steady job during the Great Depression, Dr. Seuss became concerned as war broke out in Europe, and he began submitting editorial cartoons to PM, a short-lived (1940-48) New York daily newspaper with a decidedly left-wing bent. PM was associated with the “Popular Front” of pro-Communist, anti-fascist organizations, many of which were headquartered in New York at the time and which fed, and were fed by, a network of New York intellectuals. While Dr. Seuss apparently did not share his publisher’s pro-Communist sympathies – some of his cartoons actually lampooned Stalin – PM was happy to have his sharp wit and sharp pen contribute to the debate.

Dr. Seuss’s career as an editorial cartoonist was brief, barely two years, from January 1941 to January 1943, when he joined Frank Capra’s film unit of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. But in that short period, he created about 400 separate cartoons and caricatures. He viciously attacked the expected villains, such as Hitler and Mussolini, as well as people that we today, far removed from the moral and intellectual climate of the times, would find unexpected: Charles Lindbergh, for instance, who as part of the America First movement seemed to favor Germany and who was said to espouse anti-Semitic views.

Dr. Seuss also attacked slackers on the home front, whiners, windbag politicians, and racists and bigots. Several of his cartoons criticized employers who refused to hire blacks or Jews for war industries. At the same time, his characterizations of Japanese and Japanese-American figures were nothing but racist themselves. These not-so-benign Dr. Seuss cartoons are striking reminders of a dark time in U.S. history, when American citizens were herded into concentration camps simply because their skins were a different color, and their ancestors came from a different continent, than those of the majority.

What’s most fascinating, in looking at Dr. Seuss’s cartoons of 60 years ago, is the way they reflect the political debates at home in the months leading to Pearl Harbor, when the United States could not decide between assiduously protecting its neutrality and leaning towards Britain through the Lend-Lease Act, and continuing debates about how best to conduct the war in the months after Pearl Harbor. Just as today there are calls for national unity in the face of the terrorist enemy, so there were in December 1941 and throughout 1942 – calls that would not be necessary if there were not factions threatening that unity in word and deed.

It should be added, unfortunately, that much of the explanatory text provided by the book’s editor, Richard Minear, is unnecessary. For readers unfamiliar with the times, a bit of historical context is necessary, and Minear does a fairly good job in doing that. He goes overboard, however, in describing in detail cartoons that are included in the collection (as well as some that were left out; why any were left out remains a mystery), leading to a soporific effect. Another fault of the book is that the cartoons are not arranged in a simple chronological order; instead, they are grouped according to loose themes that seem to be idiosyncratically chosen. Despite these misgivings, this is a book worth recommending; it would even be interesting in the absence of historical parallels between 2001 and 1941.

The Brand New Kid
While Dr. Seuss Goes to War is not a children’s book, despite its title, The Brand New Kid is. Written by NBC News anchor (and Arlington County, Virginia, native) Katie Couric and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, The Brand New Kid was published by Doubleday late last year (hardback, 32 pages, $15.95). We include it here because it is, as Couric notes in a brief introduction, “a springboard to talk about the importance of basic human kindness and compassion in our daily lives.” She wrote the book as a way to help parents “do a better job helping our children learn about tolerance and inclusion.”

Given the way in which Americans of Arab, Near Eastern, and even South Asian ancestry have come – literally – under attack in recent weeks, Couric’s book will be welcome in many classrooms and homes as it opens up discussion about how we treat people who are “different.”

In the case of The Brand New Kid, the protagonist – Lazlo S. Gasky – is not Arab, but vaguely Eastern European (perhaps a refugee from the upheavals of the fall of Communism?) who dresses funny and smells funny (to the other children in his new school). Before long, however, some of his classmates take the brave step to make friends with him, risking being made fun of themselves, and – this comes as no surprise, since Couric makes no attempt to be cynical – it turns out he’s not so “different” after all, and all the kids get along. An important lesson, told perhaps too simplistically, but one that needs repeating far too much.

Is Tolerance Possible?
A book intended for adults – indeed, for educated readers – asks whether religious tolerance is truly possible, even in a pluralistic society. In Getting Over Equality: A Critical Diagnosis of Religious Freedom in America (New York University Press, 214 pages, $45), Notre Dame University law professor Steven D. Smith points out the conundrum of religious tolerance: People who truly believe in their religions cannot admit the validity of other religious beliefs, which leads inevitably to a climate of intolerance.

The paradox of American history has been that, for most of the past 225 years, we have achieved a degree of religious tolerance unequaled elsewhere and in any other time. In a chapter entitled “The (Compelling?) Case for Religious Intolerance,” Smith points out:

“To the modern mind, at ease in a pluralistic culture, religious intolerance seems an anomalous and anachronistic vice, like dueling or racial bigotry. Human association is a presumptive good, after all, so why on earth should anyone be reluctant to accept and associate with others merely because they adhere to different faiths (or to none)? How does it hurt me if you profess a different creed than I do? The classic expression was Jefferson’s: ‘[I]t does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.’

“From this perspective, religious intolerance seems a manifestation less of outdated thinking than of a failure to think at all; intolerance is an expression of that quintessential (although unexpectedly resilient) modern vice – ‘irrational prejudice.’ It is nonetheless important that we understand the case for religious intolerance, in part because an understanding will help us appreciate the development by which tolerance can evolve from a character flaw into a virtue, and in part because toleration is not a completely secure achievement; it is something that still needs defending.”

Indeed, recent events underscore the salience of Smith’s last sentence. We are learning today the price of religious intolerance worldwide, and the fragility of tolerance even in our own country. Smith asks about the American experience of general religious tolerance: “How has this achievement been accomplished?”

He replies, in part: “The answer is no doubt multifaceted, involving a combination of political, legal, religious, and cultural factors, and probably a certain amount of plain good fortune.”

Steven Smith has written a provocative book that deserves further attention in this time of religious and cultural introspection.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?
Finally, in the fortnight following September 11, Americans have raised and contributed more than half a billion dollars (that’s $500,000,000) to assist the recovery from the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings. That’s an incredible accomplishment and serves as an experiential rebuttal to the argument made by David Wagner, a professor of social work and sociology at the University of Southern Maine in his new book, What’s Love Got to Do With It? A Critical Look at American Charity (New York: The New Press, 210 pages, $18.95 paperback).

In a new-Marcusian mode, Wagner argues that charity in America is something of an illusion, “that America’s ‘virtue talk’ has a great deal to do with obscuring how little we as Americans actually do for people who find themselves in adverse circumstances. More subtly, America’s worship of giving, volunteering, and nonprofit human service work as the center of moral acts and heroic achievement allows the two other sectors of American life – the for-profit business sector and the government – to be legitimized.”

Wagner’s book deserves a more thorough review at a later time, but the juxtaposition of this month’s immense generosity and his crabbed vision was too much to ignore.

(This essay has also appeared, in a slightly different format, on Rick Sincere News & Thoughts, on September 30, 2005.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Author Interview: Jim Bacon Predicts Economic 'Boomergeddon'

On August 20, Richmond-based Oaklea Press released a new book called Boomergeddon: How Runaway Deficits and the Age Wave Will Bankrupt the Federal Government and Devastate Retirement for Baby Boomers Unless We Act Now, written by James A. Bacon, Jr., founder of the on-line political newsletter, Bacon’s Rebellion.

That mouthful of a title was the topic of a conversation between Bacon and me in early August in Richmond, at a meeting of political activists and policy experts sponsored by the advocacy group Tertium Quids.

'Deep Doo-Doo'
“Boomergeddon basically makes the argument that we’re in very deep doo-doo,” said Bacon.

“The federal government,” he explained, “is going into default within the next 15 or 20 years.”

This will “precipitate an unbelievable series of events,” said Bacon, starting with “a massive Keynesian contraction which will probably push the country into a steep recession, if not a depression.”

The federal credit crunch will also “lead to the collapse of the American empire,” and hinder the ability of the United States “to project force overseas” with “complications and ramifications” that will particularly affect world trade.

Finally, Bacon said, “it will lead to a total shredding of the social safety net. Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid will be decimated.”

Baby Boomer Retirement
The book is “addressed to baby boomers,” added Bacon, those who will be retiring through the next 15 years and who “haven’t saved enough money for our retirement.” Boomers will not “come close to being able to replicate our lifestyles that we’ve enjoyed until now.”

The problem is, Bacon noted, that “if we’re counting on Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and all those things to back us up [and] to create a nice retirement then we’re all be very disappointed. It’s going to be really, really, really ugly.”

The causes of this coming crisis include health-care costs, which, Bacon points out, even President Obama recognizes as “the biggest driver of all, driving the cost of Medicare and Medicaid.”

Bacon said that in his book he “dissects” how the president tried to address this looming issue through Obamacare, but he concludes that the new health care plan “is not going to bend the cost curve downwards.”

National Debt Bomb
A second cause is the national debt, which “will continue to mount, even by Obama’s calculations, up to $20 trillion within the next ten years.” This will cause a global capital shortage and higher interest rates passing 10 percent.

When interest rates go get that high, Bacon said, “the only way you can cut back is to default, and that’s going to precipitate what I call Boomergeddon.”

There are what Bacon calls “theoretical solutions” that could prevent the crisis he foresees.

Strategy to Prevent Boomergeddon
He lays out a strategy in the book to “bring the budget back into balance by cutting about $800 billion in annual expenditures through a combination of things like a fair tax, cutting defense spending, cutting discretionary spending, and cutting corporate welfare and a variety of other means.”

He doubts that Congress and the Executive will be able to do that, however, “given the hyperpolarization we have in the capital and the blindness to what’s happening.”

(A slightly different version of this article appeared on on August 19, 2010.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Revisiting Eva Perón: A Book Review

This review essay originally appeared in The Metro Herald in April 1997.

Revisiting Eva Perón: A Book Review
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

With "You Must Love Me," the original song by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, winning the Academy Award on March 24, new life has been breathed into the film version of Evita. The film, which received mixed reviews from the critics when it was released on January 1, also was nominated for three other Oscars, in art direction, sound, and cinematography.

Twice before, when the original studio recording of Evita was released and when the opera was transferred to the stage, interest in the life of Eva Perón has been piqued. Previously an obscure figure except in her native Argentina, where she was beloved and remains a national heroine, the fictionalized, musicalized account of her life has kept her persona vivid and vibrant in the popular imagination.

In the wake of the release of Alan Parker's film, boosted by Madonna's star power in the title role, a number of books have been issued to examine and celebrate the life of Eva Maria Duarte de Perón.

Director Alan Parker himself has contributed a coffee-table book called The Making of Evita, with an introduction by Madonna (CollinsPublishers, $40 hardcover, $20 paperback; 130 pages). Like the film itself, this book is filled end-to-end with lush photographs. There is surprisingly little text, and most of that is in captions for the photos. Parker's essay takes up no more than six pages. Tidbits include the news that Madonna begged Parker to cast her as Evita, that she promised to work hard for the role, and that, indeed, while training with a vocal coach "she expanded her vocal range, finding parts of her voice that she had never used before in her own songs." Parker's book will be a nice addition to the libraries of film buffs and Madonna fans.

For information about Eva Perón herself, it is necessary to turn to two more academic volumes, the reissued Evita: The Real Life of Eva Perón, by Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro (W.W. Norton, $11 paperback; 198 pages), which was originally published in 1980, and Alicia Dujovne Ortiz's Eva Perón: A Biography (St. Martin's Press, $25.95 hardcover; 336 pages plus 16 pages of illustrations), which was a bestseller in Argentina and has been translated into English by Shawn Fields.

Ortiz, a respected French and Argentine journalist, had access to Eva's personal memoirs and to people close to Eva and her family who had many reminiscences. She even obtained the confidences of Eva's personal confessor, Father Hernan Benitez. Fraser and Navarro based their account on hundreds of interviews conducted in the mid-1970s, and augmented their study with new revelations that became available in the 1980s, following the end of Argentina's military dictatorship. All three writers make a careful attempt to distinguish between the myth and reality of Eva Perón's life -- a difficult task, to be sure, as Eva herself spent much her life trying to hide the reality and replace it with self-made myths.

That popular entertainment in music or drama can inspire interest in actual historical figures is beneficial to our culture. The high school student who picks up one of these books simply because she admires Madonna and wants to learn more about the character she portrays may be inspired to delve deeper into Argentine or Southern Cone history. It is through such indirection that today's Madonna fan becomes tomorrow's ambassador to Buenos Aires or professor of Latin American studies.

(A slightly modified version of this article appeared on Rick Sincere News & Thoughts on March 12, 2005.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Author Interview: Greg Mills Discusses African Poverty and Solutions

Why is Africa poor? What can Africans do about it?

These two questions are combined in the title of a new book by South African scholar Greg Mills, who discussed his work at a forum hosted by the Cato Institute in Washington on October 6.

Mills is director of the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation, which “was established in 2005 by the Oppenheimer family,” he told me in an interview after that book forum.  He is also the co-author, with David Williams, of Seven Battles that Shaped South Africa.

The foundation’s objective, Mills said, is to “try to strengthen African economic performance. Essentially we operate at a strategic level with African presidencies, at their request,” providing research and advice “based on primary fieldwork in African countries” and drawing “a lot of good and bad examples from around the world: things to avoid and things to try to replicate.”

Describing his new book, Why Africa Is Poor and What Africans Can Do About It (released in hardcover by Penguin Global on November 17), Mills explained it has three parts.

“It tries to understand, firstly, why Africa is poor, and it advances the idea that this is a choice of African leadership. It’s an option that they have taken; it’s a result of their poor decisions,” he said.

It also tries to explain, Mills added, “why those decisions have been made. It often relates to the fact that African electorates are apathetic. In many cases, they don’t hold their leaders to account.”

The book also relates how economic aid from developed countries – or lack of it, depending on how one looks at it – “provides an opportunity for Africans to externalize their problems and also their solutions.

The second part of the book, Mills said, “focuses on international experiences and the best examples that Africa can draw” upon, while “the third part of the book really focuses on some of the opportunities in Africa [and] how these ideas might be implemented.”

That third section, he explained, examines the coming “demographic dividend in Africa and what this means [as] a huge opportunity for Africa, and what we have to do to realize this.” It also focuses on issues like agriculture, mining, and tourism, “three areas of great comparative advantage for the continent.”

Huge Potential for Tourism
With regard to tourism, Mills noted, “Africa currently gets about 4 percent of the global one billion-person tourism market,” meaning that Africa is wildly underrepresented in that economic sector, even though “in terms of wildlife and other beach and safari-type options, we have tremendous potential.”

He gave the examples of “a country like Kenya has a million fly-in tourists a year. Tanzania has 500,000 fly-in tourists a year, [while] Mozambique just has 50,000,” despite being “right next door to South Africa. There’s clearly a lot of potential in terms of an increasing that market.”

To increase tourism, Mills said, “we need to make it easier to get to Africa, cheaper to get to Africa, [and provide] higher quality resorts when people get there,” as well as assure “safer conditions where people don’t have to be worried about what surprises they’re going to find en route.”

He said that “the way to do it is to try to make it cheaper for South African tourists, in particular, to fly” to other African countries, “and then to relax visa restrictions on other external tourists.” In his formal remarks, Mills had pointed out that the Republic of Georgia no longer requires tourist visas for visitors from countries that have a bigger GDP than Georgia has, because such people are unlikely to stay there looking for work.

“Unfortunately,” Mills lamented, “most African countries have a very onerous visa regime and the air flights are not only unreliable, but relatively sparse in terms of their coverage and penetration of African markets.”

Still, he concluded, there is “certainly a huge amount of unrealized potential in tourism with all the multiplier employment prospects that it offers.”

‘Ditto’ for Agriculture
“Ditto,” he said, “in terms of agriculture,” which is extremely underdeveloped in relation to its potential in Africa.

“Africa’s agricultural yields have been two-thirds below that of the rest of the world,” Mills explained, due to “a huge lack of investment in extension services and fertilizer and seed programs.”

African agricultural output, he said, has “more or less flat-lined since independence in terms of its yield increases. This means that 38 of 48 sub-Saharan African countries are net food importers. It’s a staggering statistic.”

With more and more Africans moving to urban areas, he warned, “if we are to develop in our cities and if we are able to reduce food costs, we need to up our game.”

That means “addressing questions about land title, it means improving extension services, it means getting the private sector involved. It means upping scale in terms of agriculture, because that obviously brings certain efficiencies, and it means introducing technologies.”

In essence, Mills said, Africa must move “from a subsistence, peasant-type farming environment to a large-scale commercial involvement, [with] all the steps in between, particularly in mid-level farming.”

Despite this current underutilization of agricultural resources, Mills continued, “there’s huge potential on the continent. We shouldn’t be stuck at 5 percent growth. We should be looking at 10 percent growth and find out and understand the reasons why we’re not doing 15 percent growth,” since Africa is starting “from such a low base.”

(This article originally appeared in two parts, and in somewhat different form, on, on October 7 and October 8, 2010.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Author Interview: Jennifer Burns on Ayn Rand's Latter-Day Popularity

To many people, the unusually high level of interest in the works of Ayn Rand and her surge in popularity are puzzling.

In January 2009, the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore published an article called “’Atlas Shrugged’: From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years,” in which he wrote:

“Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that 'Atlas Shrugged' parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.”

Two months later, The Economist reported that according to “data from TitleZ, a firm that tracks best-seller rankings on Amazon, an online retailer, the book's 30-day average Amazon rank was 127 on Feb. 21, well above its average over the past two years of 542. On Jan. 13 the book's ranking was 33, briefly besting President Barack Obama's popular tome, ‘The Audacity of Hope.’”

Earlier this year, Marsha Enright and Gen LaGreca noted in The Daily Caller that Moore’s 2009 article “seemed to ignite an explosion of interest in Ayn Rand. Sales of this prescient novel tripled; two Rand biographies have been selling like hotcakes; and references to her in the media have skyrocketed.”

What explains this phenomenon: A philosopher/novelist who died in 1982 is more popular now than when she was actively writing and promoting her books?

On April 15, 2010, after a panel discussion at the University of Virginia on whether libertarians should seek an alliance with liberals (with the resulting combination called “liberaltarian”), I put this question to one of the authors of the two Rand biographies that were published last year, UVA historian and panel moderator Jennifer Burns, who wrote Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right.

Burns said that Ayn Rand “has become a rallying point for the opposition to Obama. Definitely, she has become a really strong presence in the Tea Party. I think a lot of people are seeing her writing as prophetic, both predicting what’s happening now and warning about what can happen if the state gets too big.”

In Burns’ opinion, Rand’s “time has come, in many ways.” She cautioned, however, that “it’s probably a temporary boom. She may fade away and then she’ll probably come back the next time we see this kind of state expansion.”

Burns said that so far her book has received “a very enthusiastic reaction.” Rand, she said, “is a really important figure in American intellectual life [who] hasn’t been recognized as such [and who] hasn’t been treated as such. Most readers of Rand simply appreciate that I take her on her own terms and explain just why she matters.”

(This article originally appeared on April 18, 2010, in slightly different form, on