My Mother, David Rockefeller, and the World Economy

This is the week that my mother, Anne Alsop Palmer, reaches her 102nd birthday.

She is a competitive lady, that’s for sure.

When asked what motivates her in her 100s, my mother, who retains a collection of incandescent mental marbles, has been telling us with a gleam in her eye, “I just want to beat David!”

102 means that in the longevity stakes, she has passed her old pal and my father’s college roommate David Rockefeller. After a rewarding 101 years of terrestrial labors, David went to his transcendental reward some two years ago.

Now that she has definitively “beaten David,” she is looking forward to another concert with cellist paragon and impresario Yo-Yo Ma.

My mother still plays the piano in a style that Yo-Yo told me and friends at a party near Tanglewood a few years ago represents “a precious archive of all the forgotten techniques of European piano.”

Yo-Yo Ma is a great friend of my mother’s and has been playing an informal concert with her for the past decade or so since he moved to my home town in the summer. One of their rare specialties together is to transcribe Schubert songs for the cello and piano.

My mother is a quiet person who has spent most of her life between her Steinway concert grand and piles of erudite literature, from the novels of George Macdonald to books on perplexities of physics by her granddaughter Louisa Gilder and on biological destiny by Michael Denton. She represents a generation that understood the reality, beautifully explained by Denton, that science makes no sense without a belief in God.

My mother is a conservative, and her most consistent lifelong friends were David Rockefeller and his wife Peggy, whom my mother helped teach the piano.

A lot of people, particularly friends of mine in the conservative and libertarian movements, failed to understand David Rockefeller.

All Real Capitalists and Libertarians are Globalists

On the year of his death, Mark Skousen and I tried to organize a memorial room for David at FreedomFest in Vegas. But the powers that be in Libertarianism rose up to thwart it. They said he was a “globalist” or something.

He certainly was. In my view, all real capitalists and libertarians are globalists. As my friend Jude Wanniski told me decades ago, the only closed economy is the world economy.

As I mentioned, David was the college roommate of my father, at Eliot House in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A student of eminent Austrian economists Gottfried Haberler and Joseph Schumpeter at Harvard, my father persuaded David to go to the London School of Economics and study the subject under the tutelage of Austrian titan Friedrich Hayek. Hayek would soon write the libertarian masterpiece The Road to Serfdom.

Before going to London, though, David and my father had a globalist epiphany. They made a visit to Germany in 1936. There they saw the goose-stepping Nazi troops and the ranting Adolf Hitler with his frothing anti-Semitism and resolved that the Nazis would have to be stopped at all costs.

A futurist before me and author of an unfinished book on knowledge and intangible capital in economics, my father saw that determining the outcome of the impending war would be technology, chiefly air power. He began civilian flight training and joined the Army Air Corps at the outset of the war.

The technologists of the day made the mistake of attempting to combine a bomber with a fighter in the B-17 “Flying Fortress.” With four radial engines and bristling with machine gun turrets, in its early versions the contraption often could not cross the Atlantic in a storm. My father commanded a squadron of early B17s that was lost in passage to Britain in 1942 like all too many of these planes.

David, though, had learned the globalist lesson and in his leadership of the Chase Manhattan Bank, spearheaded its worldwide reach into some 60 countries. In dealing with the menagerie of foreign governments, he discovered early on that compromise and negotiation would be imperative. This was a lesson that Hayek himself understood.

But next to Ronald Reagan and David Stockman, David Rockefeller was the most important enthusiast for my “capitalist manifesto” Wealth and Poverty.

With a gleam in his eye, much like my mother’s, he always expressed the hope that his autobiography, with its tribute to my father, would eventually outsell my worldwide bestseller.

Still he was enough of a globalist to have enjoyed the irony of a new edition of my Wealth and Poverty, published last year in communist China.

The Key Importance of Trade and Enterprise

Many people today imagine that globalism has something to do with military “nation building” and that it has been proven wrong, particularly in China.

These people lack historic imagination. When the US opened up to China in 1972 under President Nixon and National Security Chief Henry Kissinger, China was ruled by Mao Zedong, a fanatical communist responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths, who had recently waged war with the US in Korea.

Today, Chinese communism — as vicious as it is, like all roads to serfdom — harbors a capitalist sector in many ways more vibrant than America’s.

China now has three times more initial public offerings, more startups, lower tax rates, and millions more engineers. It is roughly twenty-fold more powerful than it was in the 1970s, when David Rockefeller established Chase Manhattan as the first US correspondent bank of the Bank of China.

Accompanying the rise of China has been a great resurgence of America, with the top four companies in the world in market cap all US internet stars that have manufactured many products in China. Competing with China economically has massively enriched both countries.

Although it is hard for many Americans to accept, today China’s government at around 20 percent is smaller as a share of GDP than the US government at roughly 30 percent. Capitalism is under siege around the world, in China under the CCP as in the US under the virus regulations and climate change cults.

Only through trade and enterprise can this trend be reversed.

Many conservative academics today fantasize great benefits from now making China an adversary, barred from trade and technology. They interpret everything China does in terms of “Nazi” excesses, though Chinese “reeducation camps” chiefly focus on teaching their Islamist inmates (among them terrorist bombers) Chinese and socialist gibberish amid valuable working skills.

As Hayek understood, the world is full of ironies and challenges that do not admit to simple adversarial solutions.

As a result of Nixon and Kissinger’s leadership, and even David Rockefeller’s, China now has more capitalists than the US does. I expect them to prevail over their apparatchik enemies as freedom always does over slavery.

And I look forward to the next musicale with my mother and Yo-Yo Ma as a manifestation of the best fruits of immigration and globalism.

And I still believe that our Chinese investments can succeed in a time of peril.


George Gilder
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy

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