A Necessary Evil?

Milton Copulos's article on Sidney Wolfe ("It's Effective—But Is It Safe?" March) is an example of the foolish attitude that seems to pervade today's so-called new conservative. Copulos asserts that he is interested in the free market and as such is against excessive government regulation. At one point in his article he even suggests that "it didn't take a government regulation to get the makers of Tylenol to lead the industry in introducing tamper-proof packaging." He fails to mention the deaths involved or the implications of lawsuits against the company as factors that enhanced the company's performance.

History has shown us that on the whole, industry is less interested in factors of safety for workers and consumers than it is in profits. This is evidenced by the recent Union Carbide debacle in Bhopal, India, as well as Ford's Pinto caper and now GM's X-car brake problems. This is not to say that all industry is without conscience, but in today's world, with the emphasis on maximizing profits and higher productivity, it seems that the consumer is the most expendable and least important in terms of safety. And this is where Wolfe comes in. Although he probably does produce some effects which adversely affect consumers, where would the consumer be without the government and consumer protection agencies to help redress grievances? Up the creek without a paddle! Those who espouse extreme antiregulation are not true to the conservative element we want in our lives. We want only that regulation which is necessary. And unless we wish to return to the early 1900s, government regulation is a necessary evil.

Ted Skarbowski
Huntsville, TX

"Mind Your Own Business"

Consumer crusader Sidney Wolfe shares common ground with thousands of similar self-appointed mini-dictators, who constantly seek to regulate the lives of others. Seems to me the response to such incessant meddlers should be a loud and clear: "Mind your own business."

William B. Allard
Tacoma, WA

Honest Inquiry

The March issue featured two articles with surprisingly parallel morals. The article on crusader Sidney Wolfe spotlighted an intellectual who claims to be open-minded and reasonable, but who is in fact a dogmatist who refuses to accept contrary evidence. He is a media darling.

On the other hand, the article on gun control and the media ("Calling the Shots") featured the intellectual journey of sociologist James D. Wright. He started out advocating gun control, but in the face of evidence at least inconclusive and at most downright contrary, he reversed his position. He and his revised positions are shunned by the media.

Wolfe's megalomania (is there a better word for it?) refuses to allow him the intellectual honesty required of a scientist. Wright's honesty refuses to allow him the self-deception required of a demigod.

Philosopher Karl Popper has asserted that the worst thing a theoretical scientist can do is attempt to immunize his theory against falsification, because it is then worthless, practically and theoretically. This was Popper's central thesis in his criticisms of Marxism and Freudianism.

For libertarians, the moral is crucial: the best, though hardest, way to insure that libertarianism does not become dogmatic is for each and every libertarian to admit that there are positions of our philosophy that are testable; and we must be prepared to face the consequences of that testability. One of the consequences that must be accepted—if the facts warrant it—is the disproof of one or another of those theories.

That is the honesty worthy of us: the honesty demonstrated by Wright in his acceptance of contrary evidence. Anything less is the dishonesty that shames Wolfe—if he cares about it.

Dan Karlan
Waldwick, NJ

Questions about The Refugee Question

I was astounded to read an editorial in REASON describing US immigration laws as "evil" ("Harboring Illegals," April). Though Paul Gordon begins by properly questioning the current distinctions made between political and economic refugees from Central America, he goes on to castigate the US State Department for "denying entry to people who want to find a job, work hard, and better themselves," and then to applaud those who thwart these "evil laws."

This was an emotional assault on the floodgates, if ever I read one. Are Gordon's "people" just those from Guatemala and El Salvador? Or do they include the hundreds of millions of other people in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere who would also qualify as refugees from poverty? If not, why not?

Third World poverty is an evil unto itself, an evil that will not be set right with shortsighted doses of liberal guilt and irrational assaults on our frontiers. Mr. Gordon should take a long, hard look at the title of the magazine he writes for.

Lawrence Kohl
Arlington, VA

Indivisible Freedom

Congratulations on Paul Gordon's articulate defense of the sanctuary movement ("Harboring Illegals," April). It has always astounded me that the US government makes an artificial distinction between "economic" and civil freedoms—as if freedom were something you could chop up and distribute pieces of at will. As others have pointed out (including 60 Minutes), in any case, most of these refugees merely want temporary safety and well-being. The end goal is to go home again, someday.

Christine Dorffi
Menlo Park, CA

Inactive Activism

It is obvious from John H. Northrup's review of my book The Social Security Swindle—How Anyone Can Drop Out (Feb.) that he belongs to the talk-but-do-nothing school of antigovernment activism. He states that it will not come as a surprise to REASON readers that Social Security "is the greatest fraud ever successfully sold to the American taxpayers," that it is a "pyramid scheme," the benefits of which many "will never see again," and "would be illegal if anyone but the federal government were perpetuating it."

But this fraud is not being perpetuated by the federal government so much as it is being perpetuated by those such as Northrup, who profit by teaching that it is legal and that the public is bound to pay it. As director of the Northeastern School of Accounting, Northrup not only makes a living misleading students about Social Security, he also makes a living misleading them about income taxes.

This is why I question his sincerity when he says, "If you're going to refuse to pay taxes, I say 'Bravo.'" If that were true, he would welcome any plausible basis for avoiding the tax. It would be the height of irresponsibility for him to simply encourage people (by way of a "bravo" or anything else) not to pay taxes they really owe.

The point is that my book should prove to anyone with an eighth-grade reading comprehension that for a variety of reasons no one is legally "bound" to pay this tax. My book proves that (1) no section of the Internal Revenue Code even defines the "income" presumably subject to the tax; (2) no section of the code establishes a "liability" nor any requirement that such a tax be paid or withheld; and (3) there is no such thing as a Social Security tax but rather a second "income" tax—constitutionally illegal for want of uniformity or apportionment.

Despite all this and more, Northrup still insists that the tax is legal—proving that he should stick to his debits and credits and leave books involving legal questions to those who understand them.

Irwin Schiff
Hamden, CT

Reviewing the Reviewer

I was not only disappointed by Denis Doyle's negative review of my book NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education (April), but puzzled by its lack of interest in the issues raised in the book. Doyle writes that the book's "strident tone prevents it being taken seriously." And so, obviously, he didn't bother to read it—although he then proceeded to review it.

Evidence that Doyle didn't actually read the book can be found throughout the review. For example, in referring to my "provocative" chapter title "The Education Mafia," he erroneously assumed that I was referring to the NEA's current leadership. The "mafia" I was writing about is a small group of Wundtian-progressive-behaviorist educators (Dewey et al.) who took control of both public education and the NEA early in the century and proceeded to implement a whole series of radical, far-reaching reforms that have turned public education into the academic disaster and moral cesspool that it is today.

Elsewhere Doyle writes: "More to the point, the general case for private schools and the specific case for tax credits and tuition vouchers does not and should not rest on the NEA's stands on the issues." If Doyle had bothered to read the book he would have noticed that I share Diane Ravitch's strong objection to tax credits and vouchers because they would inevitably invite government control of private schools.

Doyle also dismisses as "inflammatory" my chapter title "The Conspiracy Against Literacy," without bothering to analyze the contents of that chapter and others that prove beyond a doubt that the decline of literacy in America was deliberately planned by the educators. I know the term conspiracy produces uncomfortable reactions in many people. But why must a perfectly good, accurate word be avoided to please the Denis Doyles of this world?

Contrary to Doyle's view, the book's "strident tone" is not preventing readers from taking the book seriously. In fact, Dr. Sam Peavey, professor emeritus of education at the University of Louisville and a life member of the NEA, sent me his review of the book in which he writes: "NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education needed to be written. Now it needs to be read.…I can only hope that my colleagues in the educational establishment can open their minds to the challenge offered in this timely book."

Samuel L. Blumenfeld
Boston, MA

NEA Exposé—Three Cheers

A public school teacher these past 14 years, my perspective on Samuel Blumenfeld's book on the National Education Association, NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education, is a bit different than that of your reviewer, Denis Doyle (April). I have read numerous articles by Doyle and am almost always in complete agreement with him. In fact, I agree with most of his criticisms of the Blumenfeld book. The book is strident in tone, it overreaches, and its chapter headings are unnecessarily inflammatory.

Nonetheless, it is a most informative book. For example, Doyle is not a practitioner and therefore could not have lengthy, direct experience with reading instructional techniques based on both the "psycholinguistic" or "look/say" approach versus the intensive phonics approach. Therefore, he would not find the several chapters on the eventual triumph of look/say meaningful. The Blumenfeld book is worth several times the purchase price to me for those chapters alone.

And, yes, I have the highest admiration for Chester Finn and was delighted to read his article "Teacher Politics" in Commentary, because the article brought to the attention of conservative intellectuals an excellent summary of the leftist political agenda of the NEA in recent years. But there was nothing new in the Finn article for me. Blumenfeld, on the other hand, documents in great detail the socialist objectives of the leading lights of the public education establishment, from well before John Dewey up to the present. This was new to me.

For all the faults Doyle so ably outlines, Blumenfeld's book is an extraordinary contribution.

Tom Shuford
Oyster Bay, N Y