Happy 20th—What's Next?

Your 20th anniversary issue is a monument to—no word play intended—reason, to individualism, to what some two centuries earlier, the Founding Fathers must have had in mind about limited government, a free society, and the bitter brew of neo-mercantilism. Congratulations.

William H. Peterson
Washington, DC

Twenty years pass rapidly but bring much. I am looking forward to reading the issue received a few days ago. Best wishes for many more scores of years.

Lowell Harriss
New York, NY

Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of a brilliant magazine. Whatever the assessment of the last two decades, the prospects for liberty during the next two are precarious.

The Soviet Union remains the greatest institutional threat to freedom in the world. The nascent stirrings of unrest described in Jack Wheeler's excellent series of articles in REASON (culminating in the June–July 1985 issue) are occurring on the fringes of the Soviet dominion, in areas that were not yet within the Soviet Bloc when REASON first appeared as a newsletter in 1968. The Soviet empire will not dismantle itself.

I look forward to reading your 40th anniversary issue. The state of liberty in the world will be closely linked to the role of reason in human affairs and to the willingness of reasonable people to lend aid and support to those willing to rise up against authoritarian Marxist regimes.

Jay B. Gaskill
Alameda, CA

Drawing the Defense Line

Robert Nisbet's essay in the May issue ("Provide for the Common Defense") appears to be a poor mount for jousting with the status quo of "the common defense." If he takes exception to U.S. foreign policy, or is something less than enchanted with Woodrow Wilson, he will not be lonely. But to suggest that our $300-billion military budget may be divided into "common defense" and "busy-body interventionist" components is irresponsibly mischievous or frighteningly ignorant.

Mr. Nisbet appears to perceive that that which is required against the Soviet Union is legitimate. Very well, let us proceed from there. When one attempts to assess the adequacy of a military force, one must face up to two questions. What do you want the force to do? What is the magnitude and quality of the hostile force that it will encounter?

Let's start with the exotic and work toward the rifleman. Which of the three components of our strategic forces does Mr. Nisbet find too large? The Strategic Air Command? The ICBM force? Perchance the missile submarines? I'm not competent to judge; perhaps he is.

Moving on to the Air Force, I am unable to identify an area in which we have more airplanes than meeting the Red Air Force will require. Transports? Attack (dive bomb and strafe)? Reconnaissance? Fighters? In fact, several years ago, I was not able to find a responsible general officer on the Air Staff who would hazard an opinion on the outcome of the air battle in Europe, if it came.

Proceeding to the Navy and comparing tasks to forces, I can't find surpluses of amphibious ships, auxiliaries, mine sweepers, destroyers, frigates, cruisers, attack submarines, battleships, and aircraft carriers. All seem to be in tight supply. In the light of our strategic material shortages in the continental United States, the logistics of a NATO fight, and our sea control requirements, a global naval war looks like a very near-run thing.

This brings us to ground forces and the rifleman. I would like Mr. Nisbet to compare the United States' and Soviet Union's ground order of battle. This done, to then place himself on the 38th parallel in Korea and look north, and then leap to the Fulda Gap in Germany and consider holding the line of the Weser, and then give me a list of the ground units that he doesn't need. It is not at all clear that NATO will be able to conduct a successful nonnuclear defensive land battle through to the arrival of mobilized men and matériel.

Well, we have looked at ourselves and the Soviets, and there doesn't seem to be anything left for busy-body intervening, which is another way of saying that if the big balloon ever goes up when we are in the midst of a lesser intervention our posture will be like that of the fellow with one foot in the air and the other on the soap. The notion that we have too much of anything in the way of deployable forces is simply false.

Jack W. Dindinger
Spottswood, VA

The Politics of AIDS

In the course of a review of Randy Shilts's book, And the Band Played On ("The AIDS Assault," Apr.), Elizabeth Whelan makes several remarks about AIDS victims and gay men that are deeply and gratuitously offensive.

"Can anyone who knows the facts," she asks rhetorically, "deny that AIDS, as it appears in the homosexual and drug-using population, is a self-inflicted disease?"

Dear God, what are we talking about? Knowingly self-inflicted, or unknowingly self-inflicted? That the author means the former is clear from her assertion that cigarette-related disease "is also the consequence of a chosen behavior." Yet the correlation of smoking and lung cancer has been public knowledge for a generation. Before 1981, however, not even the most educated laymen had any foreknowledge that the consequence of a vigorous and varied sex life could be any worse than a dose of tetracycline. "It comes with the territory" is a vicious put-down of sexual freedom, based on hindsight.

It is prejudicial to suggest that "the homosexual revolution was a health disaster." The homosexual revolution—by which one can only infer the reviewer means the gay liberation movement—has continuously asserted that lesbians and gay men have the same rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness as their heterosexual brothers and sisters. (If a good deal of rehashed '60s rhetoric has also found its way to the media ear, well…it's too easy to dismiss the fundamentals.) How does the sudden appearance of AIDS contradict the principle that millions of innocent and hard-working Americans should feel secure from assault, arbitrary incarceration, and unthinking dismissal from their jobs?

This review was a brutally insulting slap in the face of the victims of AIDS and all gay men. Were equivalently blatant remarks about any other minority group permitted to escape the blue pencil, you'd have anti-defamation leagues galore on your case.

Please cancel my subscription.

Jonathan T. Carriel, Jr.
New York, NY

Is Elizabeth Whelan suggesting that gays should be celibate, monogamous, or what in her attack upon "a political agenda that characterizes promiscuity as normal and acceptable behavior"? Her remarks on gay sexual practices were surprisingly puritanical ("and other practices that would make a sailor blush") and authoritarian ("close the bathhouses").

But most amazing is her failure to identify the Food and Drug Administration's drug approval policies—an average new drug costs $125 million and takes 8 to 12 years to obtain FDA approval—as the primary reason for the lack of available AIDS treatments. Dying AIDS victims (or terminal patients of any kind) cannot gain access to experimental drugs in this country or legally import drugs used to treat the disease in other countries. Pharmaceutical companies cannot legally communicate information about their experimental drugs with physicians or the public during the approval process. They can't even send doctors copies of scientific papers on experimental drugs! Whelan's conclusion is that "some forms of human sexual behavior are simply hazardous to our health." Mine is that we need a free market in medicine.

Sandy Shaw
Los Angeles, CA

I want to congratulate Elizabeth Whelan for writing the most balanced, logical, and factual presentation on AIDS that I have seen thus far. As our editorial writer responsible for looking into health matters, I can assure you that I have read many thousands before the piece in the April 1988 issue. Whelan's article was a refreshing reminder of where the middle ground is on this issue.

Patti Breckenridge
The Tampa Tribune
Tampa, FL

The Supply-Siders Were Right—Period

To anyone who believes that a 100 percent marginal tax rate will collect less tax revenue than any lesser positive rate, David R. Henderson's piece, "The Supply-Siders Were Right (Partly)" (Apr.), comes as a welcome empirical confirmation that what had to be the case is the case.

But Henderson still did not explain why the "supply-siders" were only partly right. After contending that "the more extreme of them spoke as if total revenues, not just revenues from the rich, would increase," he backs off by admitting that he is unable "to find this claim in anything written by Laffer or Wanniski." It seems that Henderson has not looked very carefully at what they did say in writing.

Consider that infamous symbol of fiscal irresponsibility, the Laffer Curve. The primary purpose of the curve is to suggest that increasing marginal tax rates above a certain level will lead to lower rather than higher tax revenue. When marginal tax rates are above this level, a reduction in rates will actually increase the government's revenue collections. However, this inverse relation between tax rates and tax revenue is only supposed to apply to rates that are already above the revenue-maximizing level. The curve clearly shows that when rates are below this unspecified level a tax cut will do just what one would normally expect it to—reduce government tax revenue. Mr. Henderson seems to have ignored half of the curve—the half that is called the "normal range." It helps to remember that they called it that for a reason.

No one ever claimed that even the lowest federal income tax rates (when combined with state and local income taxes plus Social Security taxes) were above the revenue-maximizing level. All they did was observe that a revenue-maximizing level existed and suggest that at least some of our federal income tax rates (when combined with other taxes) were probably above it. (It is helpful to remember that the rate reductions for the lower tax brackets were included for political rather than economic reasons.)

They never said what that revenue-maximizing level was (because they did not know themselves), and neither could they say nor did they ever try to say whether the revenue gains that would likely come from reducing the higher marginal rates would be greater or smaller than the revenue losses that would probably come from reducing the lower marginal rates. When the supply-side theory is properly understood, one sees that the revenue losses in the lowest tax brackets are as much a confirmation of the theory as the gains in the highest tax brackets. The fact that the former exceeded the latter does not contradict the theory in any way. Why, therefore, is Mr. Henderson so reluctant to say that the supply-siders were right—period?

William G. Laffer, III
Houston, TX

Why SDI?

As an engineer working on SDI since its inception, I was pleased by Jonathan Marshall's praise of Edward Teller but was disturbed by his skepticism about strategic defense per se ("Darth Vader of Science?" Apr.).

Marshall strangely asserts that our only concern should be for deterrence and that pecuniary considerations should displace moral scruples as influences on policy. He apparently misses the point that a rational policy must account for the possibility of a failure of deterrence and that, in the event of such failure, defense is the only humanitarian alternative to a naked competition in acts of mass destruction.

The Scowcroft Commission report is a weak reed on which to depend for proof of deterrence stability. At the time, it should have been recognized as a palliative to dispel the "window of vulnerability" apprehensions engendered by Reagan's 1980 campaign; it merely reiterated the 30-year-old argument for a strategic triad of deterrent forces. Moreover, the report is outdated, having assumed that by 1988 we would have on alert 100 Peacekeeper ICBMs in hardened silos—of which we have only a smattering. Recently I have been privy to force-exchange analyses that indicate conclusive Soviet strategic superiority over our nuclear forces, implying that preemptive attack is an increasingly tenable proposition for the Soviets. (They may prefer dictatorial intimidation instead.)

Finally, the insinuation that "adding the shield…may merely embolden the warriors" is outrageously irresponsible. Is placing lifeboats on board an incitement for ship captains to ram icebergs? Five years of SDI weapon-design and system-architecture studies have revealed to me only one thing: the uncompromising emphasis on preventing or mitigating a nuclear attack against the United States. To say that strategic defense is a ploy for ulterior aggressive purposes is a scurrilous canard, propounded by those whose ignorance is exceeded only by their paranoia.

In all this, consider a world in which the Soviet Union holds a monopoly on strategic defense. It is the world of today. Should we be comforted thereby?

Michael J. Dunn
Auburn, WA

The Jonathan Marshall review reveals the most glaring inconsistency of the Star Wars approach. If Mr. Marshall is correct about the SDI shield being nothing more than a further guarantee of the survivability of our offensive counterpunch, then its introduction is at best an unhappy necessity. The warning and response time to a perceived act of nuclear aggression could be pushed past what is currently considered a bare minimum for reasonable judgment to be exercised. This could result in the "use them or lose them" approach being pushed into a much narrower and more dangerous time frame.

Further, it makes an all-out attack on the United States the only reasonable use of nuclear weapons in the event of a perceived attack, because neither side will risk the dangerous possibility of absorbing a first strike that would disable its ability to respond. Each side will rightly assume that the other is prepared to defend against a limited attack much better than an all-out assault, and each side will give the most credence to the worst-case scenario for communication collapse.

Perhaps this scenario will make us safer, but it is not the starry-eyed ideal of most Star Wars proponents. If we must go ahead with these systems, let's do it with our eyes wide open and our enthusiasm tempered with some skepticism.

Daniel Salem
Omaha, NE