and other countries that were industrialized. I think something very much like that is happening now. And I think the one advantage we have is that we ought to be self-conscious enough to understand that leaving this wondrous machine to its own devices leads toward disastrous consequences. And so the question is, can we moderate it? Can we assert some social and political control over it without destroying its creative energies?

GT: In describing the deeper political instability you believe lies ahead, you raise the question of what the national interest really is in this new era, and you argue that no elected government has managed to produce a definition that convinces its own electorate.

Greider: I think the recent election is more evidence of that, not to mention elections in Japan and elsewhere. Everybody kind of knows in their gut that not much was resolved by the 1996 election. At best, you can call it a sort of stalemate between two very different and shifting ideas about government and society. And it mostly evaded the harder questions, kind of by mutual consent amongst all the politicians. Nobody has any good answers, so let's not talk about them.

I think the national interest -- and this is in the American context which is quite different from say Japan, Germany, or other parts of Europe -- but as a country, our politics has assumed -- really since the New Deal years -- that government plays a role in stimulating, fostering clearing the way, subsidizing and creating markets for private enterprise. And it does that in many controversial and different ways. Even most conservatives have bought into that, whether they like the methods or not. What is good for General Motors is good for the country.

But what has happened as a result of the globalization of production is that doing these things in government no longer fulfills the general premise that, on the whole, everybody will benefit from this. You can argue, perhaps, that many of these measures never really did benefit everyone. However, governments are now trapped in this, and you see this quite vividly at the state and local level -- trapped in a kind of political quicksand where, yes, every politician wants to create jobs, but how does one create jobs? Well, let's give $200 million to Mercedes, or $300 million depending on how you count it, so they will build a factory to build mini-vans in Alabama. Fifteen hundred jobs. And then you spin out of that this fanciful notion that there is going to be an auto parts industry located in Alabama. Give me a break. Nobody believes that. No one in the auto industry believes it. Then North Carolina does the same, so does Ohio, so does Illinois.

One of the points that I make in my book is that this is not different, in its fundamentals, from Malaysia giving enormous tax breaks, suppressing labor and doing a bunch of other things in order to get the U.S. semiconductor industry to locate its assembly plants in there. In a sense, all governments are caught in this kind of dealing -- one might call it either blackmail or bribery, depending upon whether the jobs are leaving or coming, but that is really fundamentally what it amounts to. And it is no longer clear that helping a corporation become productive and its stockholders become profitable delivers a general good to the broad public. And in fact, there is a lot of evidence that this is a negative transaction. I have some sympathy for governors who do it because I'm sure their thought is, what else can you do?

In terms of the national interest, that is to me the starkest example that the old assumptions just don't work so well.

Blake Harris  |  Editor