Keeping Family Planning on the String In her article "Cutting the Umbilical Cord" (Feb.), L.A. Villadsen dealt with one of the most successful health programs ever funded by the federal government. In most areas of the United States, family planning was not available to low-income individuals, and if unwed, there were even more obstacles. The Office of Economic Opportunity authorized assistance to all low-income individuals irrespective of age or marital status. As she correctly states, many government health departments would not follow these guidelines, so Planned Parenthood was concerned and courageous enough to do so. Whether one is concerned with abused children, anguished parents, taxpayers, or all three, thus uniting the federal tax dollars and Planned Parenthood has been one of the most effective programs in the history of the United States.
Generally, education and outreach programs have had only a limited effect in recruiting patients. But they have had other positive benefits in bringing family-life education to youth groups, school settings, homes, and churches. I am sure the federal government has never funded a more cost-effective program than that of family planning. One of the tenets of OEO was to employ the unemployable, and many of these individuals were able to assume self-supporting, productive lives.
In America today, there are millions of individuals who do not have the funds to pay for family planning. Most states are reluctant to do so. The federal government is the only source able to supplement the excellent job Planned Parenthood is doing.
Robert L. Webber
Santa Maria, CA
Robert Webber is a former Planned Parenthood official. He said to reporter Villadsen in an interview for her article, and she quoted his remarks, on the subject of education programs: "If you're not going to use the (medical) service immediately, it may not be cost-effective to use the taxpayers' money." Villadsen reported his estimate that "the good programs " are about 25 percent of those now offered by Planned Parenthood and quoted from the interview: "Without tax money, the good programs would survive." —Eds.
Reason Breeze Thank you for another informative and enjoyable issue. It's been only three days since I've received this month's issue, and I can't wait till the next. The article on the SEC (Jan.) was simply a treat; finally, someone has made the connection between economic and political liberty in a way that will make liberal-minded people sit up and take notice. The whole issue was great! Thanks again for the most intelligible reading I've had the pleasure to digest.
Please don't sacrifice the magazine to your other worthy pursuits, as they will never mean the same to me as this monthly breeze of life that comes from a sea of literary lesions called investigative journalism. I swear that I will contribute to furthering your efforts when I am able, but until then, keep up the great work. Thanks for the third time.
Travel Log The technology (identity chips in cars) described in "Charging What the Traffic Will Bear" (Trends, Jan.) has interesting applications. True, tolls would be more efficiently billed, but let's not forget the 3 percent income tax. Whether or not you drive straight home from work every night, that, your vacations in Las Vegas, and your travels around the country and around town would soon be on file somewhere.
What need for an internal passport system when the very instrument of our freedom and mobility (see "Vroom to Grow," also Jan.) betrays us to the organs of the state? "Nationwide roadway pricing" via "central billing computer" indeed.
Ft. Huachuca, AZ
1984 Down the Road? The custom memory identification chips referred to in the Trends item "Charging What the Traffic Will Bear" (Jan.) present a provocative solution to rush-hour traffic. Imagine it—everywhere you drove, radio frequency scanners linked to high speed government computers would ascertain the identity of your auto, chart your location, and charge you for road usage. An allegedly benevolent "Big Brother" helping to solve our rush-hour traffic problems and keeping a watchful eye on all of us at the same time—an Orwellian nightmare come true. As for the political will necessary to put the plan into action, I am sure support could be obtained from the FBI, the CIA, and a few congressmen bent on the bureaucratic domination of the electoral serfdom.
I urge the editors of REASON to reconsider their support for this proposal, which could greatly inhibit the freedom, enhanced by the automobile (see "Vroom to Grow," in the January issue also), that Americans enjoy. After all, 1984 is only a year away.
Gregory J. Roden
Mr. Poole replies: Once a feasible method of charging for expressway use exists, there is no longer a real case for government ownership of the expressways. Does Mr. Roden have equally strong objections to AT&T or his local telephone company knowing whom he's called? Very likely not. Similarly, privately owned and operated expressways should pose little threat of 1984.
Coercion Correction In a letter published in December, I said that Robert Nozick's earlier treatment of coercion involves the idea of "coercive offers," whereby someone's offer of a very high value in return for demeaning service would be a form of coercion. I mistakenly recalled Nozick arguing this position, reinforced in my bad recollection by Ross Levatter's representation of Nozick's view in Philosophical Explanations.
I should have confined myself to what Levatter's review says about Nozick's view of coercion. My memory of Nozick's earlier paper on the topic was rusty, so I should not have relied on it. I stick by my claim that Levatter should have examined more carefully the view on coercion he did in fact ascribe to Nozick in his review.
Tibor R. Machan
Santa Barbara, CA
Review Reply Reviewed In a letter published in December, Tibor Machan says that "judging by [my] review" of Robert Nozick's Philosophical Explanations (Oct.), one would think it "presents ideas and arguments…wholly compatible with…principles of a fully free society" but that Nozick's view of coercion and my failure "even [to] try to come to grips with the issue" puts the lie to such compatibility and makes my little piece "not good reviewing." Unfortunately, Machan's claims are inaccurate and badly argued. What are the facts?
Fact one: Nozick, in a book of over 750 pages, spends a few pages discussing coercion. In a review I was instructed to keep under 1,000 words and explicitly told to keep "not too philosophical," I quoted Nozick's position, referenced an article about it, and explained how it differed from the typical libertarian view. Apparently this was not good enough for Machan, but it is not clear what else could be done without distorting the relative importance of Nozickian coercion to the book I was reviewing.
Fact two: The main thrust of my article was a distinction between libertarian philosophers and philosophers, like Nozick, who happen to be libertarian.…One of the points of this distinction is that creative thinkers like Nozick, when writing on ethics, epistemology, or metaphysics, will not necessarily produce arguments that fit rigidly narrow, preconceived notions of what constitutes a "free society."
Fact three: However, as my review explained, Nozick's view of coercion is manifestly compatible with a free society. Again, Nozick views "coercion" as a moral, not political, notion; this implies both that coercion, for Nozick, does not entail violating rights and that Nozick doesn't think coercion, per se, should be actionable. Machan calls this explanation "rather generous." It is actually highly accurate. However, I do agree with the traditional philosophic canon of being generous in interpreting others' arguments, of analyzing them in their best light. Clearly, Machan's writing indicates he disagrees with this approach.
Fact four: His attempt to explain why Nozick is wrong—his strange discussion of Marxist views of coercion and actionability—is both uninformed of the details of Marxist thought and a complete non sequitur, something of a disappointment coming from a philosophy instructor teaching a course in Marxist economics.…
Ross Levatter, M.D.
Ann Arbor, MI
Handgun Retort David Hardy's November 1982 article on handgun control, "Arm Yourself with Evidence," is an expected response of a NRA employee. It is impossible to refute all his allegations in this limited space, so I will concentrate on one which relates to an article I wrote.
The simple fact is that South Carolina has markedly improved its homicide rate since the introduction of tougher handgun laws. Mr. Hardy's claim that the law only required "better identification" is not even a half-truth. The law also required: no more than one purchase per 30 days, ban on sale or transfer of Saturday Night Specials (defined as die-cast frames with a melting point of 800° or less), handgun dealers licensed by the state, fingerprinting for state ID, and copies of all purchases filed with the state. (See: South Carolina Code of Laws Title 23, Article 3, Sec. 23-32-110, 130, 140, 150.)
The law was passed in June 1975. A comparison of 1974, 1975, and 1976 shows a straight-line decline in homicide (452-421-327), with handgun homicide accounting for 95 percent of the decline (264-227-147). In 1980 the overall figure was 346 with handguns at 172. If the nation as a whole had done as well over these five years there would be at least 10,000 more of us alive.…
Samuel S. Fields
National Coalition to Ban Handguns
Mr. Hardy replies: I have not had the pleasure of debating Mr. Fields since, as a part-time law student, he began describing himself as the legal affairs coordinator of the National Coalition to Ban Handguns. (NCBH had four full-time employees.) His occasional claims in our debates that South Carolina's 1975 gun law was the ticket to social utopia were not hard to deal with, given that he had made the mistake of writing a letter in 1976 blasting that state for its "permissive" gun laws, and I always took the precaution of keeping photocopies for the audience. The fact is that South Carolina's violence decline began before the June 1975 gun law (rates fell over 16 percent in January-February) and came in the wake of a 1974 law imposing mandatory sentences for use of a gun in crime. Violent crime went up an equal amount in June, July, and August, right after the gun law. I note that Mr. Fields regrettably seems unable to challenge the evidence that his organization's proposals have failed miserably in New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and every other state where they have been tried.
Controlling Crimes While I commend David T. Hardy's gun control article (Nov.), I would like to have seen more about how incentives apply to gun control—and why increases in violent crime frequently follow governments' tightening of controls on gun ownership. The main context is perceived risk.
By the nature of their "work," people willing to commit violent crimes are committed to taking dangerous risks. As such, there is enormous incentive for them to minimize risk by carrying weapons, including guns—no matter what the law says, because the overall minimization of risk that a gun provides far outweighs the risk of being legally penalized.
Average citizens, on the other hand, are not in their daily lives exposed to anywhere near the constant degree of risk that such criminals experience. Thus, average citizens' incentive to wade through gun control bureaucracies' restrictive procedures for obtaining or carrying a gun decreases as restrictions increase.…As fewer potential victims obtain guns for defense and fewer are willing to risk illegally carrying them, criminals experience greater rewards for committing crimes because the balance of power shifts to them.
This explains the fact that while overall crime often increases after more stringent gun legislation is enacted, the incidence of gun crimes does not substantially change. Gun use in crimes does not decrease because criminals still perceive a high level of risk of running into those many (although fewer than before) victims who do own guns and will seriously resist. Gun crimes do not increase, either, because with fewer victims armed, it means more victims will have greater fear of any criminal, making it less likely victims will resist criminal actions, making it easier for criminals to commit crimes, and thereby encouraging them to do so without using their guns any more often than before.
Ernest G. Ross
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".