Plaudits Your excellent May anniversary issue prompted me to write to offer congratulations for both the May issue and the tremendously important work you've done for 15 years. I began subscribing around 1972.
I found Machan's "Profits with Honor" and Tucker's "Conservation in Deed" articles particularly excellent. John Hospers's article was also excellent, and much better than the companion articles on the futures of Britain, Scandinavia, and West Germany, I thought. I found the latter too philosophical and not down-to-earth in terms of concretes; sure, the welfare state is everywhere, but a country's future depends on specific policies and trends. I came away feeling largely ignorant of these for Britain, Scandinavia, and Germany.
And finally, was I ever amazed to read about Bob Poole's model railroading hobby! While I'm not into it, I do have a fascination with model railroads.
Thanks, guys and gals, for your excellent work in spreading reason and liberty and for raising my spirits every month.
Thousand Oaks, CA
Muddied Waters? William Tucker is right to sense that private property ownership is the key to stopping pollution ("Conservation in Deed," May). But dealing with pollution does not require introducing private ownership of rivers, aquifers, or "airsheds."
If you fire a bullet that hits a peaceable person—say a TV repairman in his shop, a plumber on your pathway, or a UPS driver on a public street—it is absurd to suppose the case hangs on whether your bullet traveled in a privately owned airshed or an airshed "commons." Forget the airshed—your bullet has invaded the peaceable victim's body, which is undeniably his privately owned property. To force him to accept this invasion of his private property by your bullets is clearly a violation of his property rights.
When polluters force peaceable people to breathe, drink, and ingest substances to which they object, it is like forcing them to accept bullets to which they object. Moreover, polluters easily forget that there are responsibilities as well as rights tied to private property ownership. Owners have responsibilities to control their property and to keep it from invading the property of others. Polluters, who own many inconvenient waste-products, are clearly failing to control their privately owned property.
The solution to pollution is inherent in the existing rights and responsibilities of private property ownership. There is no need to complicate, muddy up, and delay the solution by introducing privately owned airsheds and waterways. Occam's Razor!
John W. Gofman, M.D. and Egan O'Connor
San Francisco, CA
Mr. Tucker replies: I find this effort to fit all polluting interactions into the mode of interpersonal actions and "violations of space" rather clumsy and strained. Certainly, shooting a bullet randomly into a crowd is antisocial, but does that mean we should repeal the murder laws and let the two individuals settle it themselves through private lawsuits? Or try working the analogy the other way. Firing a bullet on the street is reprehensible, but what about brushing against a person as you walk past him, or walking the streets with the flu and risking passing the germs to someone else?
The kinds of dangers we are exposed to from individual polluters are far closer to the second and third analogies than they are to the "bullet" idea. That is why it is more simple, at least at this stage of technology, to allow the government to deal with many of them in aggregate form, just as we license people to drive cars, even though each and every individual driver is a potentially lethal threat to every other driver and every pedestrian that walks the streets.
As a footnote, I have the suspicion that it is Dr. Gofman's inability to deal with the concept of degrees of risk that has enabled him these many years to stand before thousands of people and say that nuclear power plants are "license to murder," even though the health and safety risks to individuals are known to be orders of magnitude less than walking past a person on the street who has a cold.
Put the Market on Its Mettle Is the free market incapable of handling trade in so-called "strategic" metals? James Sinclair and Robert Parker ("Mine the Metals Market," June) would have us believe so. The authors support "privatization" of the federal stockpile program through tax incentives to metals investors. They argue, "The most legitimate purpose of tax incentives and tax shelters is to stimulate investment in areas of industry in which risk and national need exist but in which a capital base is lacking or deficient."
But this is just social engineering in probusiness clothing. Who can claim adequate knowledge to decide what constitutes "national need" or when capital is "deficient"? That is what the free market is for!
The authors' proposal would also give the government the option, in the event of an "emergency," of purchasing stored materials from investors who took part in the tax-break plan. The implication here is that the free market can't be trusted with scarce resources; only a government monopoly can assure proper distribution of materials in short supply.
Sinclair and Parker suggest that the Reagan administration, "with its philosophical commitment to free-market principles," might approve of this plan. This is probably true, and it gives us a fine example of the type of economics this administration is trying to sell us under the "free market" label.
The authors claim that their plan "should not overly distort markets." Better that they not be distorted at all. If US industries need insurance against disruptions in the supply of raw materials, let them pay for it themselves.
William S. Statler
Psychiatric Dissident As a survivor of psychiatric assault, I am heartened to see that REASON continues to take a strong stand in favor of psychiatric inmates' rights. You are one of the few journals to oppose both the "progressive" demand for more tax-funded psychiatric "services" (that is, tortures) and the demand by those who, as Murray Rothbard puts it, are "only interested in scoring Brownie points in the Cold War game" to limit criticism of psychiatric atrocities to the Soviet Union and other Communist countries.…
Regarding Dr. Szasz's proposal for a "psychiatric will "(May), I find problems with it. It does not protect children or allegedly "incompetent" people; it may also lead to thorny legal problems in the case of those who change their minds once the shrinks come with their Prolixin needles and ECT machines. I hope Szasz is not selling us out to the advocates of therapeutic statism. Ex-inmates and others who advocate liberty against psychiatry ought to stick to our principles and insist that psychiatric relations be limited to adults who give truly informed, uncoerced consent in the private sector.
We shall not compromise with therapeutic statists who want to deprive us of our human rights and individuality.
Rothbard on Rand Wonders, apparently, never cease. I never thought I would be leaping to the defense of Ayn Rand as against Doug Den Uyl, but I thought his review of Philosophy: Who Needs It (May) unduly harsh. In the first place, Rand was a prophet—a creator of a new paradigm—rather than a systematizer. It is unreasonable to expect a prophet also to do the work of getting down into the scholarly trenches, replete with elaborations, qualifications, footnotes, and the rest of the scholarly apparatus. That work is being done very well, by Den Uyl himself and others.
Second, one need not accept the view that all non-Randian philosophers are conscious conspirators against the human mind to leap to the other pole and hail them all as fearless champions of the truth, understandably impatient at the slightest error. There is a third and more likely explanation of the lack of greater success of Randian theory among professional philosophers. And that is that the bulk of academics, in whatever discipline, get locked into the ruling paradigm in their field and treat any fundamental challenge to that paradigm, regardless of the scholarly trappings, as by definition unscientific and beyond the pale.
Randian philosophy was not only a fundamental challenge to the ruling paradigms in that discipline but an equivalent challenge to the Zeitgeist itself. In economics, The Failure of the New Economics—Henry Hazlitt's excellent line-by-line refutation of John Maynard Keynes's General Theory—was totally ignored by the profession despite his scholarly precision, perhaps partly because of his lack of formal academic credentials. But equally ignored was W.H. Hutt's critical Keynesianism: Retrospect and Prospect, despite his academic prose and his being credentialed to the hilt. And any Pollyannaist view of American academia must run athwart the utterly disgraceful fact that Ludwig von Mises, one of the great economists of the 20th century, could not find a paid position at an American university.
Considering these facts, and considering that overthrow of the Zeitgeist cannot be the work of a day, it seems to me that the Randian philosophy is doing much better than might have been expected—partly because of the work of scholars like Doug Den Uyl.
Murray N. Rothbard
New York, NY
Mr. Den Uyl replies: I wish to make a couple of points in response to Professor Rothbard's worthy letter.
First of all, I think Rothbard sells Rand a little short when he claims she was simply a prophet. I certainly think of her as more than a prophet, and I believe she claimed a great deal more than that for herself.
More important is Rothbard's concern about academic respectability. He is quite right to remind us of the many small minds that exist in academia, but he fails to distinguish between being respected and being worthy of respect. All the thinkers he lists in his letter are worthy of respect even though they may not have received their due from the current crop of academics. My concern about Rand's last book was that much of it, unlike the works Rothbard mentions, is not even worthy of respect (although some of it surely is).
In philosophy, the classic case of paradigm shifters who wrote outside of the current (at that time) university system is the 17th century. People like Descartes and Spinoza managed to do substantive work that deserved attention even though that was often not forthcoming. My hope was that Rand's work would follow a similar path.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".