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Moynihan’s Call

In response to:

Timely Griefs from the May 3, 1979 issue

To the Editors:

As a warm admirer and long-time reader of Jane Kramer, I respect her right to express her personal dislike and intellectual disapproval of Senator Moynihan [NYR, May 3], but I feel obliged to raise my voice in behalf of his call “To rip OPEC apart,” and I suggest that we are all indebted to him for this initiative. He has been the first to take it, and so far the only one.

Those of us who join with Jane Kramer in hoping and probing for ways and means of liberating the Third World from its age-old heritage of poverty will be particularly indebted to Senator Moynihan for branding the members of OPEC as financial imperialists. The fact that they were once colonials does not mean that they still are or that they enjoy a claim on our subservience, as the impoverished Third World they have left behind them does upon our generosity.

So far as our ability to put our money where our mouth is, however, if Senator Moynihan is to be held up to ridicule and isolated, instead of being heeded and followed, a social consequence of the ripoff OPEC is now engineering against us will dismantle every social program inside the US, let alone in Third World countries dependent on our generosity, and before the time comes for Senator Moynihan to stand on his record.

Eliot Janeway

New York City

Jane Kramer replies:

I admire Eliot Janeway, too. This gives me confidence that, as an economist, he really does know that there is more to resolving an oil crisis these days than “ripping apart” the oil producers’ cartel. Still, I may not be very clear as to what, exactly, Senator Moynihan meant by “to rip OPEC apart,” since this particular instance of the Senator’s measured approach to complicated world problems was not included in the book about his stint at the UN that I reviewed in these pages. I can only guess that it is another one of those fervent Moynihan one-liners that usually end up being so much more useful to the Senator himself than to the country. It seems to me that the real way to rip OPEC apart—and probably the only way short of fighting—is with a proper economic policy at home. For years, we were the only Western power with its own oil—indeed, with anything like the capacity to fill its own energy requirements—and yet economic provincialism in most administrations since the war has left us more vulnerable to OPEC price gouging than a lot of our European allies with no oil at all. Germany and even France have absorbed four to five hundred percent increases in the cost of energy with far less trauma than we have suffered in trying to incorporate increases that amount to less, in real terms, because of the astonishing deterioration of the dollar—including the OPEC petro-dollar. And this deterioration will certainly go on until there is some confidence abroad in the economic wisdom of one American administration—confidence which jingoistic rhetoric like Senator Moynihan’s is not likely to inspire.

This is not the place to start talking about the Carter mess or energy restraints, or about encouraging the kind of flexible and competitive export economy that would take us out of a prewar “captive market” psychology and act, at least, as a shock absorber for some of our oil-related balance of payments problems. Mr. Janeway knows much more about this sort of thing than I do. Perhaps it is the place, though, to remind Mr. Janeway that one of the functions of a free press is public scrutiny. I cannot believe that he truly considers it my patriotic obligation (or his own) to ignore Moynihan’s failings as an ambassador because, as a Senator, Moynihan happened to say some things that turned the world, for a few artfully simple moments, into a stage set for a High Noon showdown.

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