Letters

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ELIMINATE TRANSPORTATION SUBSIDIES

Re the interview with Sam Peltzman in your June/July 1972 issue, p. 16: Mr. Peltzman sees "very little, if any" future for passenger rail service.

I am certainly inclined to bet that if there were genuine free enterprise in the air travel industry, which would drive air fares down to about half their present level (as the charter flight operators have done for those consumers who manage to satisfy or evade governments' requirements for eligibility to enjoy the privilege of flying charter), there is no way in which long-distance passenger train service could compete with air service.

However, over shorter distances, as REASON pointed out, the competition to passenger train service arises from private cars and buses traveling over government-owned highways.

Mr. Peltzman says, "…the crude user charge that we have for the highways, the gasoline tax, even though it's crude, it's still a measure of what it costs, and that measure of what it costs for a car to go over a highway may even overstate it a little bit."

About that I wonder. Pro-freeway lobbyists are fond of arguing that since the money spent on both maintenance and construction of highways is raised only from gasoline taxes and vehicle license fees, there is no subsidy to the automobile/highway/bus transportation business.

But I submit that there is a subsidy unless capital invested in highways yields to the owner of the highways (the state) a market rate of return on investment after all maintenance and depreciation charges. This is crucial.

Competing investments, such as railways and airlines, have to yield a market rate of return. If such an investment is not expected to yield a market rate of return, then:

  1. Capital will not be invested in it, because the owner of the capital can find a market rate of return in alternative investments, and,
  2. Capital should not be invested in it, because other uses of that capital would meet more urgent needs of consumers.

It has been suggested that the gasoline tax would have to be in the neighborhood of $1.00 per gallon (as is almost the case in Europe) for capital already invested in highways to yield a market rate of return.

There are other subsidies to the auto/highway/bus system:

  1. Railroads and airlines are taxed, whereas (government-owned) investments in highways are not.
  2. When governments build highways, they often acquire the land not at true market price, i.e., by voluntary trade, but rather at what they consider to be "fair market price" as they forcibly seize the land.

I would suggest to Mr. Peltzman that if government-owned highways were charged the equivalent of what their taxes would be if these were businesses owned by people and if the use of the streets and highways were priced so that all capital invested in streets and highways were priced so that all capital invested in streets and highways yielded a market rate of return after all maintenance, depreciation, and "tax" charges, then:

  1. The private automobile, bus, and truck would be found to be highly noncompetitive with railway service over moderate distances;
  2. Railway passenger service would be noncompetitive with air service, unless the train could beat the plane, city centre to city centre; and
  3. Within cities, the demand for freeways would virtually vanish as people rode commuter trains, subways, and—over the very short distances between train and subway stations and final destinations—taxis and jitneys (at free-market prices).

Michael Martinoff, MBA
Vancouver, B.C.

BOOK REVIEW A MISNOMER

One of the purposes of a book review is, presumably, to give the reader some indication of what the reviewed book is about. David Narlee's review of my book THE DISOWNED SELF fails entirely in this respect.

It seems that he has used the assignment to review my book as a springboard to air his own difficulties with the philosophy of Objectivism and, further, to propound certain of his own psychological beliefs. Incidentally, in so doing he grossly misstates the Objectivist's view of self-esteem when he writes: "…one's self-esteem, and therefore self-acceptance, should rest entirely on one's accomplishments…"

Almost none of his discussion has any relevance to THE DISOWNED SELF. Reading his review, one would not know what the book is about.

He quotes one paragraph from THE DISOWNED SELF with no context and no indication of the relevance of the quote to the theme of the book. Then, incomprehensibly, he attempts to establish a tie-in with Ayn Rand's views concerning "sense of life" (which, I might mention, differ in certain respects from my own discussion of "sense of life" in THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SELF-ESTEEM). Neither Miss Rand's view of "sense of life" nor my own has any particular relevance to the theme of THE DISOWNED SELF or the views it propounds.

It is not my job to explain to your readers what THE DISOWNED SELF is about. So I will simply say that, as far as I am concerned, REASON Magazine has chosen not to review my book.

Nathaniel Branden
Los Angeles, California

REASON would like to note that Mr. Narlee's piece was submitted as a short article rather than as a book review. Running the piece as a book review was REASON's blunder, and we apologize to all concerned.

HAIPHONG BLOCKADE DEFENDED

I desire to express a simple "thank you" for Tibor Machan's "Reason and American Foreign Policy," editorial in REASON, June/July 1972. It does one good just to be reminded that there are strong, rational voices keenly aware of the immorality of our Vietnam involvement.

However, as a Vietnam veteran (as well as a learning, thinking libertarian) I still remain emotionally involved with the issue of our prisoners-of-war. Though I recognize the imperative need to withdraw, to do so without first obtaining the release of our prisoners-of-war would be—on a personal level, and within a personal context—morally intolerable. I was attracted to the USMC while in high school primarily because of a romantic vision. The idea of being an officer for a nation's just wars served as a magnet for my adventurous mind. I believed in this country and saw—at that time—no wrong in our elected officials. I was a fool. Now, perhaps, I am to blame in a small, small way for the death of thousands. In my behalf I must say that I opposed the draft system starting in high school. Indeed, I got into trouble for failing to register for the Selective Service. I had to submit a two-page "excuse" for failing to register. I was excused since I had been planning to join an officer program under the USMC. Still, I remain proud of my military record, not because I served this country, but because I remained true to my standards of aspiration and achievement. There is virtue, here.

On the other hand, I saw much that was evil. A major that I know stated flatly: "The only reason why the USMC is interested in Vietnam is that it will provide war-experience for the inexperienced." This was shocking—and in my youthful lack of experience—I didn't believe it. In Vietnam I saw—firsthand—the brutal effect that war can do to men. Yes, I confirm, in part, the instances of American atrocity. No, to the best of my knowledge my battalion never instigated a My Lai. But I did see—and helped my colonel put a stop to it—men using their lighters to set houses and structures aflame. However, if you've seen your comrades cut-down; if you've seen a lad of 19 slowly bleed to death; if you've had to pack the personal belongings of a victim to send back to his parents; if you've seen a snapshot of a youth with his arms around his girl in front of East Beach in Santa Barbara, as you instruct your men to pack his belongings—then, perhaps, you can understand the sense of vengeance and hatred which boils in your mind. Then, you can understand why you have a desire to kill—and why you do kill—and why you can never forget the POW.

I admit—not to my liking—that I tend to permit the POW issue to cloud my reasoning. At times the clouding becomes "incoherent, knee-jerk reactions." I may not be alive today if not for the efforts of our aviators. One of the most welcomed sights was a jet swooping down and eliminating a deadly crossfire situation, a situation which could have cost additional lives. Most of the POWs are aviators. Thus, I have a very real concern for their fate as prisoners.

Therefore, I certainly do not want a continuation of this war. Yet, I want to see the release of our prisoners. Therefore, when Nixon announced the mining blockade, I rejoiced. I saw an opportunity in the mining aspect, to sever this portion of the war from the irrationality and immorality of our efforts to waste lives to save South Vietnam. For me, this portion became a just war. I paraphrase from my letter published in the Santa Ana Register, dated 4 June 1972.

"…Nixon's decision to mine Haiphong Harbor was militarily sound as well as morally proper. I say morally because it is becoming increasingly apparent that North Vietnam will never release our prisoners-of-war. After all, our government is still trying to secure information on our men held prisoners prior to the cessation of the Korean War. Is there reason to expect North Vietnam to act differently?

"Of course, the President should strictly concern himself with obtaining our men—and not with the political salvation of South Vietnam. If applied consistently and—it must be said—harshly the blockade should work. Our men will be returned. In case North Vietnam does not comply we have the option of invasion, as long as it is done through volunteers. And there would be volunteers."

Warren C. Vinning, III

REASON IS BEST

I never cease to be amazed at the behavior of the human animal. It is disconcerting to me as a libertarian to find that people who consider themselves in the same light are so authoritarian in their attitudes toward some of the articles that appear in REASON. I certainly don't pretend to agree with all of the ideas expressed in the pages of REASON, but I hardly could consider myself rational and libertarian were I to demand, as some readers appear to, that the magazine print nothing but "pure" truth. REASON is the best of the libertarian magazines because of its diversity of content. One can be sure that each issue will present some challenging ideas, regardless of whether they conform to a rigidly prescribed dogma.

I am grateful that the editorship is in such enlighted hands. When REASON becomes a magazine for true believers only then I want my money back.

Jack Semmens
Tempe, Arizona

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