Nothing Sinister

Some concern has been expressed that my article, "The Plot to Take Over America's Railroads" (Mar.) may have implied in some people's minds that Federal Railroad Administration officials have accepted payoffs from the industry they regulate. It is worth emphasizing that I have encountered no evidence for such a suggestion.

Indeed, I want to separate myself from the simplistic and unjust interpretation of events that leads to "conspiracy theories" about government activity. My article, readers should note, acknowledged an overt official policy of promoting progress in the transportation sector. It also posed a contradiction in such policies: when an agency commits itself to funding, promoting, and defending a given set of innovative ideas, it necessarily positions itself in the marketplace, impacting approaches not so favored. Therein lies the "plot" of the story—one entirely consistent with good intentions on the part of the regulators. We all know that governmental activity should be evaluated in light of its unintended as well as intended effects. Such consequences of economic regulation are usually far more important in the scheme of things than either the personalities involved or the stated policies themselves, and in the case of the FRA we need not question the integrity of public officials in order to prove our point about regulation.

William D. Burt
Greenwich, CT

Enlightening Editorial

I thought that your April editorial was very good. I think it is very important to show in fact what we know in theory—that the Soviet Union is increasingly vulnerable due to its economic system. Recent studies, both by the Pentagon and private groups, indicate the overall superiority of the NATO Alliance over the Warsaw Pact armaments. For example, the Soviets keep outmoded non-jet aircraft in their main force, while the United States puts them in storage and does not count them in the defense estimates.

More important, your point for the necessity to make the moral case for capitalism needs to be placed in the center of discussion. Since the beginning of the Cold War, the West has made the case for various forms of noncapitalism—welfare state, democratic socialism, etc. Those making the case for capitalism want to emphasize the efficiency side. That is an argument that has been made very well in theory and practice. Yet, if people are not convinced of the moral case, they will be hostile to capitalism.

Again, the editorial was first-rate.

Leonard P. Liggio
Menlo Park, CA

Hands Off, Period

In his May editorial, "Facing Reality in Latin America," it really seems strange that Mr. Poole should reject a suggestion that the United States should have destabilized Somoza while setting forth his own suggestion that we should exchange our farmers' right to sell their products to the USSR for the removal of Soviet bases in Cuba and a promise of noninterference in El Salvador. I was not aware that embargo was a libertarian tool of foreign policy or that Soviet activities in Cuba were any of our business.

The Soviets have nuclear subs, ICBMs, and orbital missiles. How can they possibly be any greater a threat to our legitimate interests than they already are? Mr. Poole's "reality in Latin America" is obviously a watered down form of realpolitik for Latin America. If embargo is a legitimate tool in peacetime, where do we draw the line? Or is Mr. Poole tacitly endorsing the Cold War?

I have no qualms about building up our defensive capabilities by developing new weapons, as was suggested in an earlier editorial, but this tough talk about "tough diplomacy" seems out of place in an editorial that preaches a US policy of "hands off" and "mouths closed." Mr. Poole seems to me to sometimes go overboard in his effort to find compromise solutions. If the free market works so well, then why hamper our economy with an embargo every time the Soviets invade a client state? Why should our farmers' livelihood and our balance of payments depend on tough diplomatic bargains?…It seems very unrealistic to me to expect the Soviets to abandon their only advanced base, when we have them encircled with bases, in exchange for food and technology that they can buy elsewhere.

I believe that Poole's editorial only blurs the reality in Latin America by quoting State Department figures. The El Salvadoran's primary sources of guns are the United States and Western Europe. And I would take with a grain of salt the new fantasy about running guns which we abandoned in Ethiopia and Vietnam. Even if it was 800 tons, and if, as Poole failed to mention, most of it was second-hand US goods, those Soviet devils sure found an ironic way of screwing Uncle Sam this time.

Steven B. Vandervelde
Columbia, SC

What to Do about Progressivism

The article by Paul Ciotti ("Socialism…On the Street Where you Live," Apr.) sounds a warning we must heed.

Here in Philadelphia, the Democrats control city government through a traditional machine that lives off patronage and favors. The Republicans are totally bankrupt intellectually and exist only on the crumbs left them by the Democrats. The only "new ideas" come from the "progressives" organized in the Consumer Party, a collection of mostly intelligent leftists masquerading as "friends of the people." Their chief issues are a takeover of the electric company monopoly, imposition of rent controls, taxation of business while preventing them from leaving the city, and forcing suburban taxpayers to further subsidize urban transit and education.

Mr. Ciotti leaves open the question of what we can do to stop these new power-seekers. In talking with Consumer Party people, I've found that their analysis of what is wrong matches the libertarian analysis in many respects. But, while we seek to roll back government intervention—for instance, by ending the electric company monopoly—they want to increase the power of government, as long as the power is in the right (that is, their) hands.

The fact that more and more intelligent people have identified these problems makes it easier for libertarians to have their ideas accepted by those who have not yet been sucked into the "economic democracy solution." We have to do a much better job of demonstrating why a society modeled on the free market, and not on State capitalism or socialism, is more just, more compassionate, and more healthy for all individuals. Once we do that, the Tom Haydens and other power-seeking elitists will be finished. And, if we don't make the intellectual fight, who will?

David K. Walter
Warminster, PA

A Wordy Disclaimer

A review in REASON (Mar.) by Geoffrey Nathan of a book by Geoffrey Sampson attributes to me the following positions: I claim that my socialist anarchist political beliefs "flow out of [my] discoveries about the nature of human language"; I "virtually equate" behaviorism with empiricism; I claim that since empiricism is wrong, "liberalism (libertarianism)…must also be wrong"; I claim that "empiricism leads necessarily to totalitarianism."

I quite agree with Nathan in criticizing these positions. In fact, a person who advocated them would merit sympathy rather than criticism, since they verge on cretinism. The same may be said of anyone who is so deluded as to believe that ideas concerning social and political organization "flow out of" discoveries about the nature of human language. I also do not doubt that Nathan received the impression that I hold these ridiculous views from the book that he is reviewing, combined with his own gross misreading, e.g., of the single passage of mine that he cites. Nathan describes the book he is reviewing as a contribution to scholarship of a "libertarian orientation." If he had taken the trouble to compare its fabrications with my own writings, he would arrive at a rather different conclusion. However, it is not my purpose here to discuss the level of "scholarship" in this study, but rather to disassociate myself from the nonsensical views that Nathan, relying on Sampson, attributes to me.

Noam Chomsky
Cambridge, MA

Prof. Nathan replies: Having spent the last week comparing Sampson's allegations to Chomsky's actual writings, I am forced to conclude that Sampson is in fact correct. First, it is clear that Chomsky (as well as virtually all practicing linguists, myself included) believes at least some variety of rationalism "flows out of" his discoveries of the nature of language. Now, in the introductory pages to Language and Responsibility, Chomsky explicitly denies any connection between his linguistic theories and his political views. This denial is contradicted, however, in numerous places, by the strongly implied equation of capitalism with behaviorist doctrine. For example, in For Reasons of State, he equates "differential wages" with the variable reinforcement schedules of Skinner, and he twice equates capitalist ideology and behaviorism. As just one further example, in Language and Responsibility Chomsky asserts that the resilience of empiricism as a philosophical tenet is due to its usefulness in maintaining "capitalist ideology and capitalist institutions." Thus it is quite clear that Chomsky feels there is an intimate connection between political ideology and the basic epistemological dichotomy of empiricism versus rationalism. It is also beyond doubt that Chomsky (and many others) considers his discoveries about the nature and organization of language to have substantially refuted the empiricist view of learning. Perhaps the connection is not always explicit. Nevertheless, it is there.

An Amtrak Defense

Your attack on Amtrak in the "Congress's Toy Trains" article (May) has brought me to the reluctant resolution that I shall not be renewing my subscription to REASON at the end of its present term.

Firstly, I do not like the discussion of any serious subject with pejoratives and denigration. But the substance and the selection of this target also leave me discontented. Amtrak holds together a skeleton network of transportation that will be needed someday and will be reexpanded. But the cost of reestablishment will far overshadow the cost of its maintenance. If it requires current subsidies, they at least result in reducing the cost of the subsidized service. By contrast, consider the cost of the agricultural price support program, which not only costs tremendous sums for the direct price support operation, but also even greater indirect charges in the form of higher prices for consumers.

When you devote so many pages to the attack on Amtrak, while leaving more egregious problems untouched, it leads me to the belief that you select your targets on the basis of the estimated political clout of the reaction likely to be produced, rather than the measure of damage to the country. I think it is the latter which should be controlling. Amtrak was done much harm by its abandonment of center city stations. Consider Norfolk, Jacksonville, and Cleveland, for example. Certainly, the outrageous featherbedding practices should be stopped. But the whole thing seems to cost less than the cost overrun on one Trident submarine. The article touched on the subject of the highways, but not on the fact that the 40-ton trucks that are the reason for most of the highway system's construction and maintenance costs do not pay any significant part of these incremental costs demanded by their legalized presence.

George V. Eltgroth
Stamford, CT

Reading Report

Thank you for Scott Palmer's article (May) on public education. In the area where I live there are only two choices of schools: public school or the school operated by the Pentecostal Church. When gasoline was cheaper, I brought my daughter to a Montessori school 20 miles from here. She attended Montessori for three years; as a result she was eager to learn and had a positive attitude toward "going to school."

Most of your readers are familiar with the Montessori method of teaching and know of the wonderful results they achieve. When Fara was three, she could recognize the alphabet letters and began reading simple words at age four. However, in first grade at the public school, I was told Fara could not read. In second grade, she was placed in a reading lab for slow learners. She finished the lab reading on a fourth grade level while still in second grade. Yet in the third grade, she once again began to get bad grades in reading. I found this hard to understand because Fara could read anything at home that she wanted to read. I asked Fara to bring home her reading text book and there I realized what the problem was. The story she read to me was about a turtle named Theodore who kept losing his clothes from room to room and could not seem to get himself together enough to go out. Halfway through the story Fara stopped and said, "Mommy, it's just so boring." I had to agree. I give Fara money to buy books of her own choosing now, and I pay very little attention to her report cards.

I very much wish I had a better choice of schools to send my children to. Taxpayers are being ripped off for public education to the point of the whole thing being a very sad joke; no one is laughing.

Cheryl Boswell
Denham Springs, LA

Conservatism's Contradictions

Columnist George Will has finally said openly, in his syndicated column, what many ex-conservative libertarians realized for ourselves some time ago. Conservatism as a political philosophy requires a strong central government. Mr. Will was totally correct when he said that calling oneself a libertarian-conservative is akin to being a promiscuous celibate.

I can speak from personal knowledge as a former Goldwater Republican and an ex-Bircher. The Bircher slogan, "Less Government, More Responsibility," sounds good. As always, we must look beyond the slogan to the underlying philosophy. That philosophy requires near-total control.

To insure the type of military security beloved of the conservative movement requires covert espionage services as well as widespread domestic surveillance. After all, who knows which of our countrymen are plotting against national security unless we watch them all of the time? In this type of atmosphere legitimate dissent is stifled because any type of dissent may be grounds for suspicion.

Worse yet is the tie-in between conservatism and fundamentalist religion. My moral standards are my own. I have no desire to compel others to live by them, nor do I want others to compel me to live by their standards.

I hope that now that a prominent conservative writer has admitted just what conservatism is all about, the remaining "libertarian-conservatives" do as I and many of my fellows have over the last eight years—leave and join a movement that is dedicated to unhyphenated freedom.

Robert M. Dugger
Apache Junction, AZ

Vested Virtue

Robert James Lee's reply (Apr.) to George Will is welcome, of course, but it raises a quite different question from the one it addresses. This is whether Mr. Will is really worth replying to. There are certain people, Galbraith on the left and lesser-known individuals on the right—for example, Sen. John P. East, Gerhart Neimeyer, Stephen Tonsor—who simply won't pay attention to facts regardless of how often one hammers away with them. George Will is becoming one of these people. They seem to be so convinced of their virtue that they are totally blind to self-criticism and the suggestion from others that they might reconsider their views.

In Will's case, for example, there seems to be no hope whatsoever of having him admit that there are defenses of the fully free society that rest every bit as much on moral considerations as do his political views. He keeps on making it appear in his writings that morality favors only his politics and that every detractor is some kind of barbarian, not worth listening to. This way, of course, Will spares himself the trouble of having to test his moral views against anything. After all, who would expect anything worthwhile from barbarians! Their arguments must be beside the point, mustn't they?

Instead of concentrating on trying to reach people such as George Will, what seems to be needed is every effort to scale similar heights in journalism. Those who realize that the argument is between different moral positions, not between the moral among us and the lowly barbarians, as seen by Will, must practice the eternal vigilance required to reach the sort of prominence that Will and his cohorts have managed to reach. And remember, in a world known for massive corruption and lack of good will, it is not surprising that George Will and his sort are more welcome in the powerful institutions than are Mr. Lee and other people who are fair-minded in their journalistic endeavors.

Tibor R. Machan
Senior Editor

Antitrust Allegations

The April REASON includes on page 14 (Trends) a paragraph concerning my alleged public turnabout on antitrust. The paragraph has an unreasonably high density of errors per line.

I was not chief economist of the Federal Trade Commission in 1971. Indeed, the position of chief economist does not exist. I was director of the FTC's Bureau of Economics from 1974 to 1976. The estimate of monopoly loss, with its alleged relationship to antitrust, came out in a book I published in 1970. I say "alleged" relationship because, as I said in the comment I made on a New York Times column by Paul MacAvoy, the monopoly loss estimate was of much broader compass, and my views on the matter are much more complex than either you or MacAvoy attribute to me. The supposed direct quote on "credence" does not come from the MacAvoy article. Perhaps it is in Thurow's book, which I have not read, but I suspect it originally appeared in Barron's. It is certainly taken out of context, either by you or an earlier source. It was uttered, as I recall, in somewhat the same spirit as Mark Twain's observation that he wouldn't think of joining a club that would accept him as a member. Or was it Will Rogers?

I also take exception to much of what Thurow has to say about antitrust. But I am not asking for equal time. It would take a lot more time than I have seen him give the issue to set the record straight. I write this only to let you know that there are some of us out there who still care about getting the facts right.

F.M. Scherer

Mr. Poole and Ms. Dorffi reply: The source of our story, including the quote on "credence," was an article in Business Week (Jan. 12). We, too, are interested in getting the facts straight and appreciate Professor Scherer's clarification of the record.

Unleashing the Lawyers

Re your Trends item "Dump Antitrust" (Apr.), admittedly saving $80 million antitrust dollars in the public sector and probably twice as much in the private sector would contribute somewhat to our annual aggregate economic joy. But think of the real benefit. Thousands of skilled lawyers would now be available to society to be employed at something socially beneficial. They could, say, run for public office, teach potential EPA and OSHA employees, and make a modest contribution to criminal justice by making sure society had the resources to continue processing victimless crimes.

Fred Drugan
San Diego, CA

Libertarian Linguistics

Having listened for years to the ignorant platitudes of those who believe they are defending bastions of our embattled language I can stand it no longer. Enough! It is time for a whiff of libertarian (not to mention rational) fresh air. I am writing in response to the favorable review by James Chesher of John Simon's book Paradigms Lost (Apr.), a review which is full of almost as many obfuscations, prejudices, and just plain errors as is the book itself.

There is a consensus (fortunately not general) among conservatives that the English language is decaying. As evidence for this they cite the use of "they" referring back to such indefinite forms as "anyone," and the use of the nominative case after conjunctions ("between you and I"), and innumerable others. What evidence do they offer that one form is any more concise, precise, logical, or moral than any other? None. They offer none because the only evidence they have available is: It is Tradition that determines which constructions are socially acceptable and which are not. Logic is not involved.

As a linguist I have needed, at one time or another, to study over twenty languages, from Hittite to Japanese. In Chinese, one says "between you and I" because there are no separate words for "I" and "me." Does this mean therefore that speakers of Chinese have blunt tools, to borrow a metaphor from Simon? The analogy to tools is faulty.…the kind of language imperialism that Simon advocates could only be enforced within the kind of centralized, universal, compulsory education that liberals love and libertarians abhor. The standard-bearers of standards are merely enforcing their prejudices about appropriate, noncoercive behavior on minorities in the same way as conservatives did in requiring short hair, long skirts and no beards back in the early sixties. The mentality is the same. It is not libertarianism by any stretch of the imagination.

Geoffrey S. Nathan
Southern Illinois University

Mr. Chesher replies: If there is a consensus, must it not also be general? Perhaps Professor Nathan meant something else, just as (I generously assume) he meant to say preposition where he said conjunction. But there you have it, the kind of linguistic carelessness Simon abhors—and from a linguist at that.

Pickiness aside, I agree with Nathan's distinction between convention (Tradition) and necessity (Logic), but that's not what's at issue. Nor is a linguistic fact about Chinese relevant: Chinese is an inflectional language, whereas English is distributive. Different rules apply. No doubt a Chinaman can botch up his language as well as we can ours. And isn't it an interesting fact that the great Chinese language, for lack of standardization, has fragmented into numerous dialects, some of which are often called languages in themselves? This no doubt provides more economic opportunity for linguists, but wouldn't Simon say, "I told you so"?

Simon's point is simply that standards are to language what principles are to living—abandon them, and disintegration soon follows. The language crusaders have never advocated force to realize their ends. And since when is it antilibertarian for someone to plead his case? After all, Simon wrote a book; he didn't load a pistol.