As one who has worked in the transportation industry, let me praise the Semmens article on trucking [March] as excellent in every way. Because of articles like this, it increasingly appears that ICC regulation may be on the way out.
William D. Burt
Santa Barbara, CA
Good Writing, Art
Outstanding, great cover on the education issue [March], and the article was stunning. The author [Samuel Blumenfeld] writes with a personal energy as great as Robert Pirsig's in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Very good stuff!
Santa Rosa, CA
I do not entirely understand the point of Philip Dematteis's apologia for Plato [February]. Was Plato a libertarian, something close to one, or not one at all? Dematteis seems to admit that the first is not true, but edges around the third possibility in favor of the second. This shows more of Dematteis' regard for Plato than of his regard for libertarianism.
Dematteis makes a great deal out of Plato's enunciation of the "division of labor," going so far as to cite it as a libertarian principle of sorts. This is very odd, inasmuch as the division of labor is a very ancient and very natural environmental selection process having little or nothing to do with political theory. The division of labor is most highly exemplified in the life of an ant colony…or in the life of a totalitarian society, which is no less than what Plato's republic amounts to (Dematteis admits that the philosopher-kings would exercise the power of regimentation). How this equates to social freedom is not evident. In fact, libertarians should owe more to Marx than Dematteis would have us do. In contrast to Plato, Marx recognized that it is human nature not to be regimented into an occupation from birth—that the essence of freedom is to be able to change one's station in society (or occupy more than one station) as one wills. This is quite contrary to Plato's ideas.…
I sometimes wonder at the tendency for libertarians to lock themselves into Western philosophy. For instance, if one were to look for philosophical antecedents of libertarianism, one might be better advised to go back about 200 years before Plato to consult the writings of Lao Tzu, as embodied in his Tao Te Ching. Here are a few excerpts from a recent translation:
Can you love the people and govern the state and do so without interference?
If one undertakes the task of governing the kingdom and engages in governing it,
I see that he cannot lead it anywhere.
A kingdom is a spiritual vessel and should not be manipulated.
Manipulating it leads to failure.
To grasp it is to miss it.
The more restrictions and limitations there are,
The more impoverished men will be.
The more arms men possess,
The more disordered the country will be.
The more scheming and deceitful men are,
The more strange things will occur.
The more rules and precepts are enforced,
The more bandits and crooks will be produced.
When men are deprived of food,
It is because their kings tax them too heavily.
Therefore, they are deprived of food.
When men are hard to govern,
It is because their kings interfere with their lives.
Therefore, they are hard to govern.
…The keystone of Lao Tzu's teaching was the concept of wu-wei, or "non-interference." For him, non-interference was a fundamental way of relating to all of life, as well as a guiding principle in social matters. If this is not a profoundly libertarian view, then we might as well close up shop and go home. Libertarian ideas have been around for millennia. Our problem is (and always has been) to make them work in society at large.
Federal Way, WA
Quality of Life
May I take the liberty of questioning William Loggins' conclusions [Letters, March]? I don't wish to argue for "happiness" as the standard of ethics; but I find his use of "man's life qua man" equally unacceptable. What does this concept mean? Not physical survival; Rand is prepared to countenance suicide in certain admittedly desperate conditions. Not survival as a reasoning being; she envisions John Galt contemplating suicide when he would still have been capable of living, thinking, and acting after Dagny Taggart's death. Perhaps survival as a valuing and choosing being? But by what standard, then, does one measure this? If length of years, then, given that one's reason and emotional integrity are not in question, wouldn't it be necessary to maximize longevity, at whatever other cost in short-run pleasure or convenience might be needed? Perhaps Loggins is actually doing this, and never misses a meal or a night's sleep, or indulges in unhealthy or dangerous activities. I doubt that many other people would find this concept of ethics tempting; it would demand an asceticism unequalled since the Puritan era.
If, though, we are to admit considerations of quality, and to seek the highest lifetime sum of quality, then "man's life qua man" appears to me to be not a precisely determinate measure of quality, but only a formal schema of what such a measure might be. If Loggins means to claim that a particular theory exhaustively summarizes the principles of human conduct, I think he is either living an impoverished life, or is in danger of impoverishing his life to suit his ideas; my own life is quite capable of eluding even my own calculations. I am compelled to recognize the complexity, subtlety, uncertainty, and multiplicity of human character. While such ideas as "personal destiny," "true will," or "man's life qua man" may be suggestive formally, they are not standards. They are recognitions that some standard is inescapably necessary, which do not prevent recognition that no standard is sufficient.
The real need, to my mind, is for contemplation of the variety of human standards, and of the implications of adherence to different standards. Here is where art is valuable: it can provide a range of vision which could not be equalled by many years of simply living. If Loggins will contemplate the great range of human archetypes embodied in literature, in myth, or for that matter in such contemplative instruments as a Tarot deck (I am not referring to vulgar fortune-telling, but to its use in making subconscious awareness conscious through divination or pure contemplation), he may have a greater sense of the complexities and of the uncertainties facing anyone who wishes to be ethical without dogmatism.
William H. Stoddard
Chula Vista, CA
Allow me to congratulate you for the general excellence of the February number. Especially for the magnificent piece by Anne Wortham. I have not recently read anything as moving and perceptive. While I agree with your editorial as a whole, watch out for the words "standards" and "insurance industry."
As an engineer, I prepared or helped prepare thousands of standards during my life. It is not too much to say—they are one of the most prolific means used by government to exert unfair power. To describe but one:
In the years 1925-28 I worked for a small manufacturer of gas ranges in Middletown, Penna.…It became my duty to see that our line of stoves met the "standards" adopted by the American Gas Association and by cities and other governmental units. This was done and we were about to receive our A.G.A. "approval." However, an innocuous "joker" had been written at the end of the specification. I cannot remember the exact wording; however, in essence it said that a young man would visit our plant. If he disapproved of anything in our procedure or facilities, we wouldn't get our "approval." This took place. Large factors in the gas stove industry resented the presence of "upstarts" like us and were trying to eliminate us—especially because, due to better management and other factors, we were able to sell stoves of equal quality for half what they got. So the A.G.A. "standard" was simply a tool to pry us out of the industry. My boss threatened to place the matter before the Federal Trade Commission, and this was enough to get us our "approval" and "seal."
Now as to the insurance industry. From personal experience, I would say that this contains the largest number of unhung rascals outside of government itself. One of the most fertile fields in which you could occupy your investigative reporters for years would be to trace the connection between I.T.T., the Hartford Insurance Co., the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspectors, the Boiler Code Committee of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Plate Steel Subcommittee of the American Society for Testing Materials. In brief, I think you will find there is very tight control of the power-generation industry worldwide through the interlocking of "standards" issued by these bodies and enforced by granting or withholding of "insurance." And also most lucrative.
John E. Erb
Air Bag Debate
Referring to the air bag situation as a safety fraud [January] is like referring to REASON as subversive propaganda. It just ain't so. The "fraud" as you describe it makes it seem that NHTSA is profiting from the venture. Actually, the driving public will profit in the long run with fewer deaths, injuries and insurance and medical costs.
Certainly air bags are not perfect, but they provide protection for six out of every seven motorists that choose not to utilize available seat belts. The expense and bureaucracy regarding passive restraints would be unnecessary if the motoring public would buckle up.
I recommend that your staff and readers view a 30-minute 16mm film produced by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, titled "Crashes That Need Not Kill." Its research, illustrations and test crash results are dramatic. It's available on a free-loan basis from Association Films, Inc., 5797 New Peachtree Rd., Atlanta, GA 30340.
Traffic Safety Institute
Eastern Kentucky U.
Mr. Poole replies: There is no question that air bags that work properly can save lives—in front-impact crashes. The "fraud" comes when the government tries to give the impression that air bags are as good as or better than lap/shoulder belts—which they are not. Air bags are virtually worthless protection in the event of side or rear-end collisions or rollovers, situations in which three-point belts can be quite effective, as they are in frontal collisions. NHTSA's whole case, which Professor Ochs apparently accepts, rests on the idea that since relatively few people bother to buckle up, it is somehow "necessary" for government to impose air bags on them. A mandatory program of this sort may well reduce the collective total of death and injury claims facing the insurance industry, but at what price in individual liberty?
Why Pay As You Go?
Thank you for Mr. Warren Shore's article [January] on the Social Security heist.
One point of interest concerns the original intent of the architects of Social Security with regard to the establishment of an actuarially sound trust fund. In the late 1930s there was a controversy around this point and it was noted that the establishment of a fund with substantial assets would entail extreme governmental intervention in the economy since pension funds involve the ownership of corporate securities. Presumably they preferred state capitalism to out-and-out socialism since, as one bureaucrat-to-be asserted at the time, "The assets of a government are the taxable reserves or incomes of the country" (The Annals, March 1939). I believe that the decision to use a modified "pay-as-you-go" method was made after the establishment of the plan, in time to provide large benefits to individuals retiring in the 1940s.
I would disagree with the contention that the Social Security bureaucrats use Orwellian double-think. For example, J. Douglas Brown of Princeton University has been involved in the administration of Social Security since the 1930s. Although a review of Professor Brown's An American Philosophy of Social Security will confirm and amplify some of Shore's more caustic remarks, it will not reveal double-think…only pure, old fashioned stupidity.
New York, NY
This is in response to Douglas Schell's letter [March]. Mr. Schell seems to see two possible objections to libertarian theory: (1) that the "threat of wrongful acts" would not be reacted against by legitimate force in a libertarian society, and (2) that cultural attacks on sensitivity and rationality (such as pornography and TV violence) will erode the rational behavior of individuals upon which a libertarian society depends.
To deal with the first objection, libertarian theory does, of course, provide for retaliation against threat of force. A stranger could not stick a shotgun in your face, then later innocently claim that "he never intended to pull the trigger." Nor, as in the classic example, would your neighbor be allowed to build an armed, 100-megaton nuclear warhead in his living room, "just for the hell of it." Any action which could, in reason, only be interpreted as leading to damage or destruction to innocent persons could, and would, be retaliated against (in court) in a libertarian society. The important point here is that each threat of force case would be adjudicated individually, on its own merits, in its own context. No sweeping laws of prohibition would be passed by some legislative body; the law would consist of judicial precedent.…
The principle ignored by Mr. Schell in his second objection is one very fundamental to libertarian economic and social theory, and one which is also very simple to state: "All things being equal, rationality tends to work, and irrationality tends not to work." The "all things being equal" is the most important part of this principle. How can irrationality win out in the real world, where reality, by definition, must sooner or later catch up with it? And how can rationality lose, if reality, by definition, must ultimately vindicate it? The answer, of course, is force. If only persuasion and voluntary interaction are allowed among men, then rationality will always have an edge; it may not always be prevalent in a given area, it may be temporarily supplanted by fad or superstition (human beings are not, after all, perfect), but as long as men are free to think, experiment, and act as they please, rationality will tend towards dominance.…
Mr. Schell mentions TV violence and pornography (and other "victimless crimes") as forces which might, in a libertarian society, "contribute to the erosion process of both sensitization and rationality." But surely this is an unwarranted conclusion. Today, in our present culture, with our state-controlled educational system, our state-regulated communications industry, and a populace generally brainwashed with the collectivist notions of personal irresponsibility and government omnipotence, it is easy to spot stupid and irrational trends, and conclude that freedom just won't work unless we force people to be rational, as if that would be possible.…But in a libertarian society, without the coercive forces and philosophy previously mentioned, and in the midst of a vibrant, dynamic free marketplace of ideas and institutions, would TV violence or pornography be significant or ultimately influential? I think not.…
Rationality does not need the protection of "preventive" laws. But in any society where such laws exist, irrational men will soon discover that what they could never accomplish through persuasion and demonstration, they can accomplish through the "preventive" machinery of the state.
Baton Rouge, LA
Mr. Kazmann and Ms. Smarr criticize Dr. Beckmann's support of nuclear power in a not very convincing way [Letters, February].
If Mr. Kazmann would disclose the full story which I'm sure he knows (or should know as a professional engineer), he would mention that the breeder reactor has no such limitation as to fuel. There is, right now, stored and neatly packaged, enough depleted uranium to furnish over 8,000 quads of energy, enough for a 100-year supply for the entire US at present rates of consumption in total energy, if used in the breeder reactor. Also, it is possible to recycle plutonium in the present thermal reactors. And besides all that, the world reserves of uranium are not as limited as Kazmann would have us believe.
As for Ms. Smarr, I challenge her to support her hypothesis that nuclear energy is not safe. Her argument on this point hinges on human error, but all plant designs have many levels of safeguards to prevent that. Their perfect safety record in well over 400 reactor years of US operation demonstrates that.
Ms. Smarr should do her homework on waste disposal and discover that the true waste (cesium 137 and strontium 90, half-life 30 years) in 600 years decays to a radioactivity level less than the uranium ore from which it came, and that with reprocessing the volume of this waste is tiny: even if all US electric generation were nuclear, in 350 years the volume of waste would be a cube 200 ft. on a side. This is easily vitrified into non-leachable ceramic, encased in stainless steel and concrete, and stored in salt domes, of which there are some 50,000 square miles in the US. Waste disposal is a political problem but not a technological one.
Decommissioning costs have indeed been taken into account. The cost would be $13-15 million in 1975 dollars with mothballing or entombment for 100 years followed by dismantlement and removal. This is less than 2 percent of what such a reactor designed in 1975 would cost to build. Even immediate dismantlement and removal would be at most $42 million in 1978 dollars, for a 1,000 MWe PWR reactor, which is about 0.2 mil per kilowatt hour.
Ms. Smarr should study Dr. Cohen's excellent works on plutonium dispersal and she would discover that due to its weight, plutonium dust settles rapidly, and dispersal so that people could breathe it (and develop lung cancer in 30-45 years) is next to impossible. Hundreds of tons of it were released by the post-war atmospheric bomb tests, and the lung cancer mortality has not risen in proportion.
To produce 80 quads of electric energy from dilute solar insolation would require 137,000 square miles of real estate in permanent shadow, vs. about 106 square miles for nuclear. Perhaps Ms. Smarr could address herself to the environmental impact of putting this much of the US—about 13 percent more than the state of New Mexico—into shadow. Even the Sierra Club has doubts about this one!
R.W. Johnson, P.E.
Ben Lomond, CA
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".