To the Editor:
In his otherwise thoughtful review of our book, The Confidence Gap [Books in Review, July], Melville J. Ulmer contends that “a further shift toward the ‘democratic socialism’ of Western Europe” is our prescribed solution for the restoration of public confidence in American business and other institutions. Where did he get such an idea?
We do say, as he quotes: “The future of American business depends in some part on whether American society for the next generation continues to resemble its past or moves toward more European types of political, economic, and social arrangements.” The point of that passage is to argue that the future of American business, as far as public esteem is concerned, would be worse if our system were to come to resemble European social democracies. We point out in the same section that “both anti-business sentiment and policies are less severe in the United States than in most industrial democracies (Japan being the principal exception).” And, a few pages later, “Capitalism has never achieved the legitimacy in once-aristocratic Europe that it has in the United States. . . . Hence, American business people have a tradition of public leadership, high status, and social recognition that the business class rarely acquired elsewhere.”
In fact, we argue that “the spearhead of the attack on business has come from the New Politics liberal Left, the intelligentsia, and affluent college-educated professionals who are basically critical of the materialistic emphasis in society” and that the New Right shares this moralistic view of politics and distrust of business values. As far as the mass public is concerned, we find “a heightened demand for social responsibility on the part of powerful institutions” and for “some degree of commitment to the public interest.” Is this what Mr. Ulmer regards as advocating European socialism?
Seymour Martin Lipset
Melville J. Ulmer writes:
For reasons given in my review, I am happy to learn now that Seymour Martin Lipset and William Schneider do not advocate “European socialism,” but I do wish that they had said so, since so much in The Confidence Gap gives the opposite impression. For example, at one point they imply that real improvement in public sentiment “would probably require that the Democratic party and the American labor movement become much more committed to socialism and social-democratic policies and manifest more opposition to business than they have ever done.” Elsewhere they observe: “Only if major social changes generate a renewal of public confidence can business and other institutions expect to rise significantly in the esteem of most Americans” (emphasis added). Finally, the book closes with: “Should the 1980’s be characterized by a major crisis, the outcome could very well be substantial support for movements to change the system in a fundamental way.”
Such rumblings of future radical change are the only recommendations or forecasts that I can find in their otherwise interesting book. At any rate, one must accept, as I surely do, the assurance that the authors did not really mean what it seemed to me was clearly indicated in The Confidence Gap.