The American Conservative
Evening in America
GEORGE W. BUSH'S under secretary of commerce for international trade, Frank Lavin, was once described in an official press release as "America's Salesman-inChief." He emerges in a less glorious light in Clyde Prestowitz's new book, The Betrayal of American Prosperity.
In a lengthy anecdote, Prestowitz cites Lavin as an archetypal example of the sort of thinking that engineered America's economic trainwreck. Prestowitz, who is president of the Washington-based Economic Strategy Institute, recounts how he contacted Lavin on behalf of FormFactor, a small American technology firm whose patents were being stolen by a Korean competitor. A weakened FormFactor was considering drastic layoffs and being tempted by large grants to move its operations to Singapore. But the firm's founder, a fiesty Russian emigre named Igor Khandros, wanted to save as many American jobs as possible.
Naively, perhaps, he set out to enlist the U.S. government's help in cracking down on Korean intellectual property theft. So, accompanied by Prestowitz, he did the rounds in Washington. Lavin was more or less their last hope. Prestowitz writes: "If there was one person in the U.S. government responsible for promoting American exports and the interests of American business abroad, he was the guy. Imagine our surprise then when he responded to our request for help by asking: 'Have you considered moving your operations to Korea or maybe Singapore?'
"Igor nearly fell out of his chair. We didn't bother to tell Lavin that we were talking to him in an effort to avoid moving the company, jobs, and technology out of the United States. ... He wouldn't have understood our values and intentions."
The anecdote goes some way toward explaining why America's trade deficits went from disastrous under Bill Clinton to totally catastrophic under George W. Bush. The result is what will surely be seen by future generations as the fastest implosion of any great power in history.
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