Letters

|

Homelessness Meets Heartlessness?

The consensus among the new breed of social theorists is that a society that seeks to aid people in distress is actually performing an "intellectual and moral disgrace," for aid actually stifles the initiative for self-reliance that would otherwise result from these distressed individuals. One might argue that this is an optimistic view of human potential, but based upon the countless articles, books, and speeches I have read and listened to from conservatives and libertarians alike, it is a naive notion, stemming from a silent contempt they have for the underprivileged. Martin Morse Wooster ("The Homeless Issue: An Adman's Dream," July) reflects that contempt, which men such as George Gilder and Charles Murray support and have written about in skillful semantics.

As in defense and other government spending, the answer is reforms and limitations of social programs, not total elimination. Demonstrating concern for the poor does not make me an advocate of the welfare state; instead, it liberates me from the absurd notion that society is better off by leaving a mentally ill street-corner bum to fend for himself (and it is just tough if there is not enough private charity to go around). A political movement that eliminates compassion from its agenda through economic rationalizations is doomed to failure.

Roberto Santiago
New York, NY

Martin Morse Wooster evades two issues that deserve attention from defenders of individual liberty.

The first issue is the massive violation of the civil liberties of homeless people through involuntary psychiatric interventions. The psychiatric industry has used billions of tax dollars to imprison innocent individuals and torture them with Thorazine, ECT, insulin coma, lobotomy, wet and cold packs, and the like. When caring for their desocialized victims became too costly, psychiatrists dumped them onto the streets. Having caused much of the problem in the first place, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the rest of the psychiatric lobby have labeled homeless people mentally ill en masse and are demanding easier commitment laws.

The other issue is rent control. The best way to help homeless people is to encourage the development of more low-income housing. Considering the laws of supply and demand, the repeal of rent control laws would clearly reduce the number of homeless people in the long term. Anyone not convinced of this should read Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson.

Above all, homeless people are individuals. As Thomas Szasz suggests, they value liberty more than most of us. They fear psychiatric imprisonment and torture like the plague. All of us should support their right to be free of psychiatric, economic, and governmental paternalism. There is no reason to concede a monopoly on compassion to the advocates of such paternalism.

Stephen Mendelsohn
New Britain, CT

I was intrigued by that portion of your article regarding the homeless that said, "UMTA is in on the action to figure out how homeless people can use public transportation." This is misleading. In fact, the UMTA grant to which you refer was made in 1986 to Community Family Life Services Inc. (CFLS) in the amount of $80,000 to help transport unemployed and disadvantaged residents of the District of Columbia to jobs in the suburbs. CFLS is a health and welfare agency that provides food, clothing, counseling, and employment assistance to the poor, homeless, and ex-offenders.

This UMTA grant, through the use of smaller vehicles and lower costs, helps fund a network that provides unique and important services to disadvantaged people. In addition, these services form an important lifeline to those who would otherwise have limited mobility by taking them from the streets of the city to jobs in the suburbs.

Under provisions of the UMTA grant, CFLS charges its riders $3.00 a day for the round trip and can get them to their jobs in about 30 minutes. Without this service, these workers would have to pay double that amount and it would take them more than an hour and a half to get to work and another hour and a half to get home.

It seems to me that providing such mobility is the bottom-line consideration for all of us in the transportation industry, and I hope this letter helps clarify a legitimate federal effort to act on one of our society's most pressing problems.

Alfred A. DelliBovi
Urban Mass Transportation Administration
Washington, DC

Choice and Consequences

As we plan to flag Kuwaiti tankers, Ted Carpenter's article on early American foreign policy ("Would the Founders Freak?" Aug./Sept.) serves to remind us that many of our foreign entanglements were once a matter of choice rather than necessity. George Washington thought we could develop strong foreign trade without developing equally strong political relationships abroad, a quixotic view that was probably naive even in its time.

Two hundred years later, a review of foreign affairs suggests that economic and political issues have been almost inextricably intertwined. But our entanglements abroad, which seem so inevitable now, began with choices, at least some of which might have been avoided (though arguably at our peril).

Carpenter points out that any vestige of American isolationism was abandoned when it became clear that the Soviets aimed at world domination. Even without this threat, our economic dependence on foreign oil has led us to devote much political and military attention to the Middle East, an area of virtually no import to the United States in Washington's time. Surely the Founders did not anticipate the extent to which the world has become interconnected economically and politically, nor did they imagine the advent of weapons like the ICBM that would pose a long-distance yet immediate military threat to the United States.

Given our economic interests, there is probably no turning back to a time of relative isolationism, but that does not mean we should not make every effort to enhance our independence from foreign resources. Otherwise, we continue to be threatened by the prospect of losing the very freedom that once propelled the nation. Just as Madison sought to develop a system of government in which diversity could flourish within the United States, so we should encourage and respect such diversity in our dealings with foreign governments. And we should not abandon our own democratic processes in attempts to cultivate democracy abroad, lest we become the enemy we fear.

William E. Cooper
Iowa City, IA

No Room for Ideology?

I by chance came across a copy of your magazine and, being a fan of Max Headroom, was immediately drawn toward Ed Crane's essay ("Max Headroom for President," Aug./Sept.). Though disappointed at the scant space afforded Max, I was more saddened by Mr. Crane's other comments.

Most of the Hart campaign staff had been with the senator since before 1984. Yes, a few political mercenaries climbed aboard in 1987. But having been a part of that staff in 1983–84, I can tell you that most were there because they believed in the senator and what his campaign stood for.

Does Mr. Crane seriously expect anyone to believe that an individual would join Gary Hart's campaign in 1983 on the expectation of the spoils to be had in 1984? If I or anyone else were depending on those kinds of odds paying off, the folks in Las Vegas would love to see me anytime.

Each of the present campaigns will have its share of "hired guns," but those will be very much in the minority. People just do not mortgage two years of their lives (personally and financially) in return for little or no pay, terrible working conditions, and the scant hope that their candidate might amount to anything. They may be attracted by the glamour, excitement, and sense of being a small part of history, but they stay because of the shared sense of purpose found in any political effort.

Mr. Crane believes that ideology and principle are inseparable, when they can be found at all in the rampant pragmatism of Washington. Say one believes in the principle of free trade. What is free trade? Mr. Crane and I, with our very different views of the world and our different ideologies, might not agree. Since I don't agree with his view, he claims that I don't really believe in free trade after all, and I in turn say the same about him.

Undaunted, I begin to think about how I might bring my principle of free trade into being. I might work to pass the Gephardt Amendment (one of the worst ideas ever to come down the pike). I might do essentially nothing (the Reagan approach). Or I might try to initiate a new round of multilateral trade negotiations as the most pragmatic answer to the present situation. My pragmatic approach to the problem brought me closer to my principle than I was before, while Mr. Crane is still stuck with a principle my ideology says does not exist.

Clayton E. Smith
Clayton, CA

Pity poor Ed Crane. He bemoans the lack of ideology in the current presidential campaign and the focus on "marketing" candidates instead. Of course, marketing a candidate is and always has been a reality in American politics. Washington was no ideologue; Jefferson probably was—a decent one at that—and his presidency was far from exemplary.

The 1980 Reagan campaign was a masterful wedding of marketing and ideas. Once in office, Reagan's problems largely stemmed not from disingenuity (though there was some) but a poor "product," that is, Reagan's political agenda. The "deal" with Congress has been rapid, massive military spending for much more modest cuts (generally slowdowns in the rate of increase) in domestic programs. Sorry, Ed, but that's the way the world works.

Robert Capozzi
Arlington, VA

Number Six Is Number One

Bravo to Larry Niven's article on "The Prisoner" (July), perhaps the most evocative science-fiction series to come out of '60s British television. McGoohan's presence as the enigmatic, persistent Number Six was unforgettable—even though I was only seven when the program first aired in America.

Another enduring hero in the science-fantasy genre is Doctor Who, especially as played by Tom Baker. This whimsical time traveler has "a history of support for libertarian causes," according to Davros (evil creator of the Daleks). The Doctor's adventures are amusing, illuminating, and fun for the whole family. Take a trip in the Tardis this weekend!

Brent J. Bielema
Fulton, IL

I enjoyed the discussion of "The Prisoner." Although the series occasionally did become surreal, it was not entirely as cryptic as your reviewer suggested.

In his description of the final scenes, Niven left out the most important event. When Number Six finally encounters Number One, the supposed mastermind of the conformist-collectivist-authoritarian Village, he unmasks him to find a creature in an ape mask, tears off the ape mask, and finds himself. McGoohan has stated in interviews that he cut the length of the time his own face was on the screen to about one second, in order to achieve precisely the desired effect. (As an early hint from a prior episode, when Number Six returns to London, his apartment looks nearly exactly like his cottage in the Village, and there is a number one on the door.)

McGoohan's message is that what makes authoritarianism possible is the baser side of humanity, which desires to give up responsibility and allow the controllers to control. In one sequence only briefly mentioned in the review, after Number Six has rejected all attempts to control him, the Village's last-ditch effort at getting him to conform is to offer him the job of Controller (that is, Number Two). Number Six accepts this offer in hopes of turning the Village people free, but the mob screams and babbles at him every time he opens his mouth. Number Six suddenly understands that the mob does not want to be free and, even more ironic, that even the controllers are powerless to be independent. They in turn must conform, because they must tailor their actions to the natures of those they control.

His last choice, then, is to escape entirely from the scene of interdependence. When he finally returns to London, the last scenes imply that despite the knowledge Number Six has attained, to fit into society (the macro "Village") he is more or less back where he started in terms of the requirements to conform.

The allegorical aspects of "The Prisoner," while certainly debatable, are clear enough to be observed (as opposed to naked surrealism), and that is what made the show so worthwhile, enjoyable, and enduring.

Robert R. Prechter, Jr.
Gainesville, GA

Watchdog with a Bite

Thank you so much for the discussion of the Competitive Enterprise Institute's "CAT Scan of Congress" (Trends, June). It's good to know there's one public policy watchdog group that's concerned with eradicating big government rather than ensuring that big government uses its power to further the interests of narrow interest groups.

Alexei M. Marcoux
New Almaden, CA

Advertisement