Imperial Valley, Revisited

Your Bill Birmingham [Brickbats, April] has mis-struck by not doing his homework. He accepts bureaucratic Dept. of Agriculture figures as to what is the size of the most productive farm in place of the actual market decisions. He implies that I implied that the successful farmers of Imperial Valley are Hardscrabble dirt farmers, thus misrepresenting them as poor underlings. He then "exposes" me by exposing the farmers as being the "usual swine" in danger of losing their fat public subsidies. Here he adds, in the usual leftist way, a new element of dishonesty: the claim that they get a water subsidy justifies the government forcing the farmers to sell their excess land. He accepts the concept of "excess land" as determined by the government, and he emphasizes sell as opposed to my emphasis on dispossession. However, sell at what price? With the water rights or without? At what price did the present owners buy? Obviously, they bought at the market price which included the water rights.

When my article was written, the Interior Secretary had ruled that the "excess acreage" was to be sold at lottery at a price not to include the value of the irrigation. That is straightforward dispossession. If the Interior Secretary has backed off since the time my article was written, it is dishonest for Birmingham to use subsequent rulings, which resulted from the sort of criticism I made, to argue that my original position was "uninformed."

I made a point of emphasizing that my defense of property rights should not be misconstrued as support for federally subsidized water. The subsidy, if it actually exists, can be ended without dispossessing the farmers from their land. This should be clear even to someone who is illiterate in economics. You just charge for the water. Then the market, as now, will determine the relative sizes of the farms. But first, you have to be sure that there is a subsidy in Imperial Valley and not just the performance of contractual obligations. Imperial Valley was exempted from the acreage limitations. They were already getting irrigation water from another canal that dipped through Mexico before returning to the United States prior to the construction of All American Canal from the Colorado River.

The farmers agreed to support the "All American" project with the understanding that acreage limitations would not apply because their farms were already there. They turned in their existing water rights plus, I believe, $45 million paid to the federal government for their share in the new water system. I do not know if the farmers have fully paid off the $45 million or not. The point is that a deal was made which the farmers entered into in good faith decades ago.

Paul Craig Roberts
Alexandria, VA

Mr. Birmingham replies: Mr. Roberts says he "made a point of emphasizing" that "his defense of property rights should not be misconstrued as support for federally subsidized water." So he did. I reproduce his "point," with "emphasis," exactly as it appeared:

(My defense of property rights should not be misconstrued as support for federally subsidized water.)

One sentence, in parentheses yet, does not qualify as a spirited assault on socialized irrigation.

As for the "bureaucratic USDA statistics": 1) UC Berkeley provided similar figures, and 2) Roberts should know that USDA statistics are used all the time in the profession. Anyway 3) if he doesn't like them, he can refute them.

As for the "alleged [sic] subsidy" it is derived as follows: Government water costs less than free market water. This is due not only to the use of tax money, but to the unrealistically low "discount rate" used to compute capital costs. (I learned about discount rates studying for my BA in economics, by the way.) The discounted future value of these savings accrues to the land owner, and capitalized amounts to about $1000 an acre in the Imperial Valley by the source I used, and to as much as $1500 an acre by others. (Again, if Roberts doesn't like these figures, he can refute them.) The Interior Department method of sale (of which I was quite aware) recovers that subsidy. Roberts isn't telling me anything I don't know by observing that a full-cost pricing policy for water would do the same thing. But that would also lower the market price of the land by the same amount, at the expense of those po' farmers who bought their monopoly privileges "in good faith." I wonder what Roberts would have said to the abolitionists of the 19th century, who wanted to deprive the cotton farmers of the slaves they had bought "in good faith." —B.B.

Not "Back" to Land

It's unfortunate that there is so little knowledge of the purposes and ideals of those people who are a part of the "Back to the Land" movement. ["Back to the land: Environmental Suicide," March] When one closely studies the "movement" one realizes it is not "back to the land" at all but a new concept in environmental management that is very much unlike the old ways of the early settlers. There are ideas now being put into practice dealing with intensive crop raising on small acreages with a respect for the soil used—a method not employed by our wasteful early homesteaders. Indeed, such methods have rarely ever been used in this nation at all and are not as yet widespread. One reason being that the way of agri-business is primarily large-scale, not intensive. The problems of a large-scale, chemically fertilized monoculture (one main crop—corn, wheat, soybeans) being fewer bushels per acre and a less fertile, dead soil, prompted these new homesteaders to use different means for food production. They know and realize that the problems of the environment do exist and why they exist. They are not just talking about it in terms of the future, they are doing something about it now.

Industry and technology have caused a great deal of the environmental problems of not only this nation but also of the world. Our oceans are polluted by petrochemicals that will not break down. Needless to say, industry has dumped them there, thinking erroneously that the seas are an endless sewer. Cities have dumped sewage and industrial wastes into rivers and streams killing fish and other wildlife, making them unfit also for human consumption. Then government and health officials came to the "rescue" with chlorination (a product of technology). Now the AMA admits (finally) that such a substance is a carcinogen.

There are those among libertarians who will not support a system that tampers with man's nature, but endorse those who do all in their power to alter the processes of the globe. Doesn't it stand to reason that mankind should work in harmony with both instead of against them?

Kay L. Bream
Aspers, PA

Homestead Benefits

Homesteading is not a utopian idea but it is the greatest way to discover your roots and to fulfill yourself. It is (my biased personal opinion) the best way to freedom. Mr. Dunn's article [March] has aptly shown the effect of back to the land; not a movement but a lack of thought brought on by the ignorance of education by hierarchies (i.e. governments, religions, corporations, majorities, edicts, rulers, chieftains, warlords, witchdoctors, universal opinions, and other professionals).

The past is clear; the future is even clearer. Pollution killed in the past. It kills now. Primitives used fire to destroy the land. Technologists use ten-gang mold-board plows, herbicides, and saline irrigation water in much the same fashion as fire to destroy life (or make it miserable) to aid "progress." Technology did not give us conservation. Wisdom did. Primitives moved on or died out. There is no place to go now. We save our soil because we want a future growth and profit. We plant two trees when we cut one down.

We efficiently use the local sources of energy (wood, solar, wind, geothermal, etc.) and local resources for building energy-efficient homes, climatically and solar oriented. We build now and for the future. We raise our own food because it is fresh, wholesome, and delicious. We enjoy assisting nature at this task. It does not involve all our waking hours as some would believe. We garden intensively so we have time to be creative and/or to relax. We invent our own recreation. We free ourselves as much as possible from the rhythms of society and become entwined with the rhythm of life. We barter among neighbors, and through small local industry and services make our "profit." We control our lives. We have gone forward to the land. We have taken marginal land and made it four times more productive than large scale agribusiness methods on half or less the energy output for fertile land. We have no waste to dispose of. Waste is what is thrown away. Everything on the homestead is recycled to where it came and we profit by it.

Long after the present government, hi-tech industrial complex is gone, the phoenix to rise up out of the ashes will come from us common people—the peasants who've stored a few gold coins and pieces of silver, who've mastered the art of survival and enjoy the life that emanates from it. We will set the example by cooperating with life, replacing what we take. By this positive environmentalism of the lowly homesteader will Mr. Dunn's professionals have their come-uppance.

Vertis M. Bream
Aspers, PA

Mr. Dunn replies: The idyllic life which Vertis Bream suggests that we emulate is remarkably like the life which our own ancestors lived here in the United States and which almost all of the people of the less developed nations now have. The major difference appears to be that the Breams have the benefit of modern horticultural technology (that despised word) which has shown them how to supply proper nutrients by various rather sophisticated "natural" techniques.

One of the major problems with going back to the land appears to be energy. Getting energy only from wood is obviously out of the question, because there is not enough of it even for heating our homes and for cooking. The Breams suggest that solar, wind and geothermal power are also acceptable energy alternatives. The first two energy forms require relatively large amounts of other resources such as wood, metals, glass, plastics, or crushed stone (and do not forget money). If one does not believe these resource problems are real, try to apply the solar and wind alternatives on a significant scale to the many countries of the world where the purchase by a family of even a simple solar cooker is a financial impossibility. So far as geothermal energy is concerned, the potential in the United States is certainly large; however, the latest summary figures I have from the US Geological Survey(1975) start with the words "Disregarding cost."

It appears to me that to support a general back-to-the-land movement would require that many people still dig coal or uranium or work in oil refineries to supply energy while others would have to see that it is transported in some manner. One should also realize that the homesteaders would have to make enough money to buy it.

Finally, as a practical matter, the homesteader concept may be a little hard to sell to the world's poor who would still like to try the "luxury bit"—such luxuries that is, as having three meals a day or having the resources to build a windmill, a solar cooker, or a geothermal power plant. Or the ultimate of all luxuries: that of having a choice of lifestyles. —J.R.D.

Double Effect

Re Dr. Block's article on abortion: His rather twisted reasoning seems to miss one essential point, mainly, that the abortion (removal) is exactly what kills the unborn child. He is apparently trying to use the Catholic doctrine of the double effect (where unintended results occur from a morally neutral act). To try to apply it in the case of abortion is the same as saying one does not kill someone if he shoots him because all the actor does is pull a trigger, and one cannot be responsible for what happens to the bullet after that. I can understand why Dr. Block has attempted to justify abortion, but his argument fails to do so.

Vincent P. Lewis
Hopewell Jet., NY


No one argues that a human fetus is not human. It is clearly a being, and thus a human being. It is also alive. Over these simple, uncontested facts, Karl Pflock waves the magic wand of Fallacy and pronounces the human fetus a member of the human race, a unique individual, a human life, and thus, a person.

By "a member of the human race" we ordinarily mean "person." But Pflock trades, perhaps unwittingly, on this meaning and the stricter, zoological meaning "belongs to the category 'human' rather than, say, feline." This latter meaning does not imply person. So Pflock equivocates and begs the question. Unsound and unfair.

Similarly, he claims that a fetus is a "unique individual" which ordinarily means "a person," but it emerges later, a la Professor Johnson's quote, that a unique individual is one that is not a part of its mother. But in this sense a feline fetus is also a unique individual. Another equivocation. Virtually the same game is played with the expression "human life."

So, from Pflock's article we get three rather fine examples of equivocation, and an excellent demonstration of question begging thrown in for good measure. My logic students would find this article fertile (fertilized?) ground for digging.

James E. Chesher
Santa Barbara, CA

Women as Experts

Abortion and rape are two issues which affect women directly and uniquely in a way that does not apply to men. Though it is not necessarily inappropriate for men to write on these subjects, the first and foremost experts must, of psychological necessity, be women. Therefore, for REASON to publish three articles on abortion. all by men, shows an appalling insensitivity that is an insult to women.

To add injury to insult, none of the three male writers are in any way experts or even activists involved with this issue. To our knowledge, only one—Tibor Machan—has even so much as written publicly on the subject before—and that only in a limited way. (Block's prior article in the Libertarian Forum is almost identical to the one in REASON and only slightly predates it.) But abortion is at least as serious and complicated as other social issues and deserves to be dealt with properly in a major libertarian publication. Libertarians who are thoroughly familiar with the medical and moral arguments, who have been actively involved and have written extensively on the issue could speak far more appropriately and properly on abortion than these men. For example, there is Cindy Cisler of New Yorkers for Abortion Law Repeal, one of the most prominent pro-abortion activists in the country. On the anti-abortion side, there is Doris Gordon of Libertarians for Life who, though less experienced than Cisler, has certainly been diligent and involved.

But neither Cisler nor Gordon was asked to write. In fact, in response to our query, Machan informed the Association of Libertarian Feminists that the editors of REASON did not think to ask a woman or any expert to write on this issue.

Furthermore, on balance, these three articles are not representative of the majority of libertarian opinion. Two of the articles are anti-choice on abortion even though most libertarians are pro-choice. (Block's argument is fundamentally anti-abortion and anti-choice.) Even Machan's pro-choice argument, while making good points, is not the kind of argument that most pro-choice advocates, especially women, would use.

For those reasons, the Association of Libertarian Feminists wishes to formally protest the poor judgment and insulting insensitivity shown by the editors of REASON on this serious issue. ALF also calls for a response by appropriate libertarian women in a future issue of REASON.

Sharon Presley, National Coordinator
Tonie Nathan, President
Lynn Kinsky, Vice President
Robert Cooke, Secretary
Sieglinde Kress, Treasurer

The editor replies: I am appalled by this and several similar letters we have received on the abortion articles. The idea that an accurate understanding of the morality of abortion (which was, of course, the subject under discussion) depends on psychological factors which only women can understand is ludicrous. It would be relevant to certain other kinds of discussions about abortion, but not to a discussion seeking to establish facts, in order to arrive at a correct moral position.

When REASON set out to produce the abortion feature, the sex of the possible contributors never even occurred to us. It seems especially ironic that we stand accused by feminists, whose principal concern we have assumed to be fair and equal treatment of all people—regardless of sex. To be faulted for having acted precisely in this non-sexist manner is, to say the least, distressing.

In point of fact, Doris Gordon was consulted about the proposed articles. I met with her and contributing editor Karl Pflock last September at the Libertarian Social Club of DC dinner, at which time it was agreed that she would work with Pflock to be sure that the views of Libertarians for Life were available to him as he prepared his article. The principal reason Gordon was not asked to do the "pro-life" article was that Pflock—a contributing editor—had already volunteered to do it. We had not heard of Cisler until receipt of the above letter. We had heard of Block's views and thought his approach to the complex moral issues involved was uniquely thought-provoking.

As for the "balance" among the three articles, our aim was to stimulate thought and discussion on this very difficult issue—not to ratify any sort of existing status-quo consensus. I am quite pleased with the three articles for doing this, rather than simply repeating established ideas as dogma. —R.P.

Reason for Hope?

Congratulations on carrying in full Edith Efron's comments on recent trends in the libertarian movement [February]. I am not competent to judge all the details in her article, but the main thrust of it is resoundingly right and slashingly insightful. Once again, a libertarian speaks in the tradition of Ayn Rand and Rose Wilder Lane—words all the more valuable because such sentiments have not been heard much in recent years during which the Libertarian Party has been courting its enemies and alienating its friends. Those of us who saw what was happening to the Libertarian Party were answered with barrages of vilification and slander. But hope springs eternal. Perhaps, after Edith's article, there is still some reason for having it.

John Hospers
Los Angeles, CA

Efron Is Right

Ho boy. It looks like Efron's gone and done it again. Way back in 1971 she had the effrontery to point out the ultra-bias on network television—something anyone out there in the hinterlands could easily have pointed out. But, predictably, the media powers were outraged.

Now shes gone and ripped it with her deadly perfect aim in the February REASON. Oh, she won't get away with it, that's for sure: I predict a deluge of outraged missives from the fashionable America-hating faction. So, since all that's necessary for the dummies to triumph is for good people to remain silent, I'll have to stick my neck out there too: Efron is right.

This isn't the first it's struck me: I've been wondering over the last year or so why it seems that libertarianism has become just as anti-American as the bosses on the Left. If one dares pronounce a limited government sentiment, you find yourself being shouted down with a variety of invective, from "fascist" to "old fashioned hard-liner." We have been taken over somewhere along the way, and no one before Efron has opened their mouth a peep. It wouldn't be socially acceptable, you understand.

No, not everything she wrote was correct. Many of us prefer to live our lives as "hippies." That doesn't mean we don't get things done. It doesn't mean we aren't dynamic and epistemologically solid. What it does mean is we prefer to live our lives the way we see fit, rather than the socially and politically "correct" way.

But that's quibbling. Edith Efron is fundamentally right in her assertion that we libertarians have rushed to jump in bed with the Left, choosing to ignore its authoritarian pimples, state-worshipping warts, and worse. This has probably come about for two basic reasons.

First, libertarians have suffered so much for so many years as "outs" that we've come to crave some kind of acceptance. With a few shifts here and there—such as denouncing evil "Amerika"—and soft-pedaling our most fundamental beliefs (individualism, capitalism, merit), we've come to find that we're at least tolerated in the halls of the trendy Left. Very nice feeling, that.

Secondly, we seem to have fallen prey to that process which affects virtually all movements: the more radical segments always seem to take the center stage. This may be because this super-media age always rewards the squeaky ideological wheel…no matter how wrong. After all, that's where the story is.

So the women's movement changes from an all-embracing human liberation movement to something hostile to anyone not toeing the current feminist party line. The civil rights movement of the '50's, becomes the bad-ass nigger movement of the '60's, and manages to actually harm the concept of equal treatment before the law.

And the libertarian movement turns away from championing its most fundamental precepts…in favor of an oleaginous, soft-pedaled goo that makes a fetish of left-wing and media acceptance. How strange.

Even Karl Hess, from way out there on the left feather, notes one of the "gravest weaknesses" of the Left is its thoughtless and automatic anti-Americanism. And we've turned away from Friedman and Rand for that? Come now.…

In exposing how we've let ourselves be snaked into bed with the Left, Efron has done what Tom Wolfe makes a career of. He too gasps in stupefaction upon hearing a description of this society as tingly dangerous and fascistic, the secret police poised to break down the door any second, the cattle prod clubs at the ready.

Well, she's decided not to sit and listen to the bullshit anymore. And I am with her. Will there be a great upheaval of support for her now? Not a chance, for she made a serious mistake in the column, calling on the "leaderless, rudderless group" to get it together. Everyone may agree with her, but who the hell is going to jump in with that bunch?

Not me, for sure: I've got my leaders and rudders all together. It's just that they haven't been performing so up to par lately. With Efron's help, the battle will be joined again. You silly-putty anarchists out there who've been so eager to serenade the Left, just relax and look around. Quite comfortable. Very fashionable. You'll rarely get blasted in a major way.

But when the Left takes over and institutes the total State—which is what they've always aimed for—you guys will be the most surprised to find that…why…they were never on your side at all. Suckers.

Tim Condon
Gainesville, FL


Karl Bray died at 8:10 A.M. on May 7, 1978 in a Florida hospital after a long struggle with cancer. Born June 12, 1943 in Provo, Utah, Karl became the leading tax protestor of the 1970's. Although his formal training was in chemistry, his pro se legal battles with the IRS brought him acclaim throughout the United States. In 1972 he petitioned and received the first nationwide temporary restraining order against IRS surveillance methods. His further tax resistance eventually cost him a six-month term in federal prison. The author of numerous pamphlets on taxes and the IRS, he completed a book-length manuscript, Taxes Are Revolting, just prior to his death.

Karl Bray was buried in Provo, Utah. Contributions in his memory may be made to the Church of Moral Ethics, Box 674, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254. All funds will be used to defray some of the costs incurred by his long illness and to ensure that his library and papers remain intact for use by libertarian scholars and writers.