Letters

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Keep the Lid on Dope

In regard to Mr. Poole's editorial (Oct.) against curbs on drug traffickers, some countries have the death penalty for dope peddlers. In defense of this practice: it's hard for a dead criminal to commit another crime. Other countries, like Mexico and Turkey, just put dope runners in jail and throw the key away. A lot of Americans would like to be able to see their children go out at night without the chance of being attacked by a drug-crazed maniac. A lot of Americans would like to take their car on the highway without the risk of it being demolished and its occupants mangled and killed by a doped-up driver of another car. A lot of Americans are getting pretty tired of our legal system that protects the criminals and makes life hell for its decent citizens.

W.A. Perine
Ocean Park, WA

Mr. Poole replies: Each of Mr. Perine's arguments about the possible adverse consequences of some people's use of drugs applies at least equally to the use of alcohol. Yet we seem to have learned our lesson about criminalizing that drug. To make illegal, voluntary noncoercive activities because somebody might do some harm is to give up essential liberty for temporary safety. And we know what Ben Franklin said about that.

Citric Circus

As the author of legislation to reform the agriculture marketing order program, I was very pleased to read your story on Sunkist's efforts to restrain the Federal Trade Commission from challenging anticompetitive practices in the navel orange industry (Nov.).

On my request, the General Accounting Office undertook a study of the orange marketing order earlier this year. GAO concluded that the Sunkist-dominated Navel Orange Administrative Committee (NOAC) was not representative of the industry as a whole and did not represent the views of consumers.

In addition, GAO found that 44 percent of the 1980–81 crop was withheld from the fresh market due to the order. Many of those oranges were grown with federally supplied, taxpayer-subsidized irrigation water. So, now we have subsidized projects delivering subsidized water to subsidized farms, which grow crops that are kept out of the marketplace in order to boost prices to growers. And that is supposedly the "free market system"?

The Department of Agriculture and the Vice President's Regulatory Review Commission are currently investigating marketing orders. After a week of hearings in California last summer, Secretary Block concluded that changes in the order were advisable and would be made by USDA if NOAC failed to initiate them. If neither acts, hopefully Congress will respond to the many criticisms of the program and enact my legislation before another growing season passes.

George Miller,
Member of Congress,
Washington, DC

Reminders of Rand

Cheri Adrian's "Why Shoot J.R.?" and Tom Bethell's inaugural Viewpoint column, "Envy" (Nov.), were excellent. They indicate that there is a moral and cultural case to be made for capitalism as well as an economic one. These articles reminded me not only of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged but also the last article she wrote in the Objectivist, "The Age of Envy." Could it be that Rand's central insights might after all receive the attention they deserve?

Douglas B. Rasmussen
Jamaica, NY

A Good Businessman Is Hard To Find…

Cheri Adrian's article, "Why Shoot J.R.?" (Nov.), was a refreshing, readable, and, by and large, quite acute analysis of the roles the businessman has been assigned to play in our popular arts. If Adrian erred at all, it was perhaps in the direction of undue pessimism in the admittedly unrewarding search for positive portrayals of businessmen. The problem, in American literature at least, has not been so much that there have been no such positive portrayals, as that the American novels in which such positive portrayals may be found are usually excluded, according to the dictates of the conventional literary wisdom, from consideration as Serious Literature. This is certainly the case with the novels of Ayn Rand, which Adrian does cite. But it is also the case with such novels as James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce, Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, and Eric Frank Russell's The Great Explosion, none of which Adrian cites, but all of which would repay the attention of the fiction reader interested in sympathetic presentations of economic endeavor.

Jeff Riggenbach
Oakland, CA

Uncontained Praise

I want to acknowledge Petr Beckmann's article "Containing Nuclear Waste" (Sept.). I congratulate you on a fine piece of journalism. It's a pleasure to be able to read informative facts. You have shown how misinformed nuclear-power opponents are, and you let your readers draw their own conclusions.…I found it very interesting to see credible data generated by someone who is not working in the field. (I found it particularly interesting that there are so many useful by-products.) Mr. Beckmann has done an excellent job of putting the facts in layman's terms without using complicated analyses or attacking anti-nuclear groups.

Maurice G. Hartman
Fullerton, CA

Noxious Nutrients?

Despite an increasing skepticism about drugs, people are inclined to assume that if a substance is a "nutrient" (unless it is salt or sugar), it must be harmless. The article "How to Stay Well: Using Nutrients" (Health & Welfare, Nov.) reflects this belief. However, at the doses recommended, the vitamins and minerals become drugs, and the public should be informed of the potential toxicity.

Vitamin A accumulates in the liver. Symptoms of hypervitaminosis include blurred or double vision, bone pain, calcification of ligaments and tendons, baldness, and hyperpigmented areas of the skin. In large doses, this vitamin may accelerate the bone loss of aging.

Belief in the efficacy of megadose vitamin E is based primarily on testimonials. A double-blind controlled study in 200 subjects showed no general health benefits. There are numerous case reports of an apparent association between vitamin E and blood clots, with improvement on stopping the vitamin and recurrence on starting it again. A long list of other side effects (fatigue, menstrual irregularities, headache) have been attributed to it.…

Much experimental work is in progress on the effects of nutrients on the immune system and on carcinogenesis. Results are preliminary, and large variations among species occur. People who take large doses of selenium and other substances voluntarily may provide information about toxicity that could not be ethically obtained in the laboratory. The "blind staggers" and "alkali disease" (the softening and loss of hooves and horns) were described in animals grazing on plants high in selenium in the time of Marco Polo. Injection of selenium salts has a strychnine-like effect. We don't know much about excess zinc ingestion in humans, though in animals it has caused poor growth and anemia.

Caveat emptor applies to orthodox medicine, but also to the nutritionists and others who would save us from physicians.…

Jane M. Orient, M.D.
Tucson, AZ

This letter was accompanied by a list of references that is available upon request —Eds.

Starry-Eyed Capitalists?

I've been reading REASON for several months, and I find it interesting and even stimulating, although I disagree with your politics.

The major problem with your lust for laissez-faire capitalism—with a diminishing (if not near ending) of state intervention—is that it fails to consider the historic forces behind the growth of the modern behemoth capitalist state which we all decry. That is, you deride the inefficiency of Amtrak, the postal system, nationalizations, etc. And then you go on to say how the private sector can do it "better" if left untrammeled. Of course it can! Because the private sector would only work where profitable!

Private capital would operate railroads only where profitable, and to hell with those unfortunate hundreds of thousands who didn't have the good sense to live in such locations. It would do the same with the postal system, and too bad for those in rural areas far away from the denser—and hence, more profitable—routes. And so on.

The very necessity to serve such unprofitable elements makes it essential for the state to intervene. And historically, though seriously flawed in its intervention, this in fact is what generally causes such nationalizations in the economy. You and I may not like this reality, but it's still reality.…You seem to imply advocacy of saying "tough luck" to those who live in regions where capitalists cannot set up their exploitative enterprises.

Alas, you libertarians yearn for a crisis-free capitalism that no longer—indeed, never did—exists. Worse, your theory, I regret to say, makes you pimps for a capitalism that can only offer the working and lower-middle classes increased austerity and the ultimate bourgeois solution: inter-imperialist war between the capitalist American/Western and state capitalist Russian/Eastern blocs.

Michael W. Ecker
Scranton, PA

The editors reply: Mr. Ecker raises some interesting issues in his letter. We grant that only those industries and projects that can break even will go into and stay in business in a free society. But we do not grant that this means "to hell with those unfortunate hundreds of thousands who didn't have the good sense" to live nearby. Why should people who put up with living in cities be forced to subsidize those who choose country life? People should be free to choose their lifestyles—and accept the consequences themselves, not coerce others into sharing the costs.

Crisis-free capitalism has indeed never existed, not because it could not, but because it was not permitted to. To complain that such a situation could not occur because it hasn't occurred is like saying that decent human beings, happy marriages, and the like, cannot occur because they are statistically rare. There is nothing inherent in human societies which prevents the reign of liberty. The trouble lies not in our stars but in ourselves, in particular in those amongst us who doubt that we can, in voluntary cooperation when that is appropriate, satisfy our own most basic needs and most exalted values, from food and shelter to flowers and symphonies.

Minor Metals Matters

Steven K. Beckner's Money column for October contains so many errors and distortions that it demands a response.

1. The investment appeal of industrial metals does not "center around the assertion that the United States and its allies are in a 'resource war' with the Soviet Union." While this thesis is certainly advanced by some analysts, it is by no means a central issue to serious investors. The best reason for investing in metals is that they have tended to maintain their real value for many decades, in the face of a collapsing dollar and declining real prices for stocks, bonds, and other fiat-denominated assets.…

2. Beckner's claim that "the expertise of the most honest brokerage firms that have entered the strategic metals field in the last two years is very questionable" appears to damn the entire industry but is actually highly nebulous. Bache Metals has dealt in minor metals for retail accounts only since early 1981, as has the Sinclair Group. Did Beckner mean to include these firms in his condemnation, or do they escape the two-year limit? Or consider London's Strategic Metals Corporation, technically founded at the end of 1978 but doing business with investors only since last year. Two of SMC's directors, John Dewey and Len Hillyard, have a total of more than 55 years' experience in trading industrial metals throughout the world.…It's clear that many strategic metals brokers who entered the field only recently possess a degree of competence several orders of magnitude above that of your typical SEC-approved stock market tout.

3. Beckner says that the markets for industrial metals are poorly organized, "barring the few (lead, zinc, palladium, platinum) that are traded on the London Metals [sic] Exchange and the New York Mercantile Exchange." Hasn't anyone told him that more than 1.8 million copper contracts changed hands last year on New York's Comex? The London Metal Exchange also offers spot and forward markets in aluminum, copper, etc.

I have many other problems with the column, but they are basically differences of opinion or interpretation. For instance, it's true that mounting investor interest is "trying to force minor metals into the parameters of other investments" and "trying to impose outside laws on an industry that traditionally hasn't had them," but isn't this how all markets have evolved? As for the complaint that metals pay no interest and involve storage costs, what can one say? Those who protected themselves with gold and silver during the past decade heard that refrain constantly, but how many of them would want to trade places today with those who kept their funds in "safe" interest-bearing assets?…

R.S. Taylor-Radford
Managing Editor,
The Metals Investor
El Cerrito, CA

Mr. Beckner replies: I have no desire to go into a point-by-point rebuttal of Mr. Radford's letter. Having reviewed my column, which was based on extensive research and interviews with leading specialists in London, Washington, and elsewhere, I find that I have no concessions to make. I stand by both its factual accuracy and its opinions. A fair reading of the column reveals that, while it is not a ringing endorsement of strategic metals, neither is it a thorough-going denunciation. I merely endeavor to counterbalance some of the unqualified hosannahs to everything from cadmium to linoleum in a market that is, I repeat, disorganized, immature, and littered with frauds and overnight experts—along with a few good guys. There. Is that better?

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