I suppose I should be grateful to Jacob Sullum ("The Fixers," Dec.) for acknowledging that I am not "as irrational and dishonest" as others who do not share his conviction that there would be no drug problem if there were no drug laws. If so, allow me to express my gratitude by specifying two questions that seem to me to embody the central challenges to a purely libertarian drug policy.
1. Assume for the moment that there exist some commodities that lead a disproportionate share of their consumers to create external costs and to violate the rights of others. This would be true, for example, of commodities whose consumption tended to reduce foresight, conscience, and willpower, and thus to increase impulsiveness. Should public policy toward the manufacture, distribution, and consumption of those commodities differ from public policy toward production, exchange, and consumption of ordinary commodities? If so, how? If not, why not?
2. Assume for the moment that there exist some commodities with technical characteristics that so compromise individual decision-making capacities as to cause many consumers to make poor decisions about them, as those same consumers later evaluate those decisions. Examples of such technical characteristics could be the potential to produce physiological dependency, a combination of immediate and self-evident rewards with deferred and obscure disadvantages, and a tendency to interfere with the judgment and self-control required to maintain moderation. Again, should public policy take these facts into account? If so, how? If not, why not?
Surely there is nothing self-contradictory about the descriptions above. If one can imagine such commodities and acknowledge that they may require special legislation (taxes, regulations, or prohibitions), the question of which, if any, actual commodities deserve special treatment, and what forms that treatment should take, is a matter for scientific investigation and policy analysis. It cannot be resolved as a matter of abstract right. It is thus no surprise that drug-policy reformers fall into what Sullum calls "the tinkering trap." There is a real problem to manage, and to the extent that it is not managed by prohibition it needs to be managed in some other way.
I do not argue that all drugs, or that only drugs, have the characteristics described above, though it seems to me fairly obvious that smokable cocaine is far more liable to them than corn flakes are. What I do maintain is that the drug problem (including the alcohol and nicotine problems) is not a figment of some demented statist's imagination, and that attempts to deal with it publicly will not, and should not, cease. The proper debate concerns the goals that such efforts ought to pursue, the limits on their efficacy, and how to reduce the extent of their unwanted side effects. Libertarians have a contribution to make to that debate, but to make it they will have to dismount from their hobbyhorse.
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Mr. Sullum replies: Neither I nor any legalization advocate I know claims that "there would be no drug problem if there were no drug laws." Rather (as I'm sure Mark Kleiman knows), we argue that "the drug problem" is in fact an amalgam of problems, many of which are caused or aggravated by prohibition itself, some of which constitute right violations that are properly prohibited, and some of which are beyond the purview of the state.
Kleiman's questions are provocative and could easily be discussed at length. For the moment, I would merely suggest that he is wrong to think that the drug debate is or should be purely "a matter for scientific investigation and policy analysis." Even given the existence of the special commodities that he describes, questions about how to deal with them—in particular, whether to punish the many for the crimes of the few and whether to restrict people's liberty because of what they might do—cannot be answered without reference to political and moral philosophy. Indeed, the very definition of Kleiman's special commodities depends on factors, such as conscience and willpower, that cannot be empirically assessed by policy analysts and social scientists.
Jacob Sullum's review of the drug-war tragedy may benefit readers of REASON, but the persons who most urgently need exposure to such analysis are members of state legislatures. Most civil and criminal penalties are state penalties. Many state officials are uneasy about the drug war but afraid to say anything aloud. If drug-war skeptics would write to their state legislators, expressing support for winding down the drug war, progress could result.
Richard Lawrence Miller
Kansas City, MO
Ellen Frankel Paul's excellent review ("Big Girls Don't Cry," Dec.) mentions in passing something that demands comment: the radical feminist "cause" of "scrapping the 'canon' of Western culture." Western culture does have faults. But it enshrines a virtue unknown in the rest of the world: tolerance.
To be sure, most countries have official agendas for racial equality and women's rights, but these are creations of the Westernized intellectual and governmental classes. The communitarian reality is sati, the practice of burning widows alive still prevalent in India; it is widespread female circumcision in Africa; it is wholesale murder of tribal foes.
Most residents of Earth regard those not of their immediate affinity group as subhuman, and women as chattels. Only those who have internalized "the Western canon" feel bad about it.
"Big Girls Don't Cry" offers a review of four books about feminism that no libertarian would be interested in reading. The first three authors recount their disillusionment with feminism in today's world and offer statist, collectivist answers. The fourth author, by the reviewer's portrayal, offers a surfeit of antilife bilge that supposedly fills the void of antifeminist criticism.
No other section of the book-review issue offered only books no one would want to read. Are we to believe this is because, as the reviewer claims, feminism has been "an enormous success" or "too successful," and therefore there is nothing worthwhile left to say? I don't believe that's true; I'm sure an organization such as the Association for Libertarian Feminists could suggest some valuable books to review.
Both the reviewer and Virginia Postrel, in her editorial of the same issue ("Poetic Injustice," Dec.), used the term feminist to refer to the views of liberal feminists. The same generalization appears in Michael Weiss's article on "feminist" attempts to bring about changes in the law ("Crimes of the Head," Jan.). Some of the views expressed there were not just liberal but extremely radical. As a libertarian feminist, I strongly object to surrendering the term feminist to liberals and leftists. It should be used only in reference to feminists of all viewpoints.
Though I was glad to read Oren Grad's clear-headed review ("Cold-Fusion Confusion," Dec.), I wish he had debunked a popular myth that has distorted most of the consideration of cold fusion's ultimate significance, namely that the perfection of nuclear fusion would precipitate a millenium of inexpensive, ecologically benign, essentially unlimited electrical power. There are at least three reasons why this dream is likely never to be realized.
First is the fact that nuclear fusion per se is incidental to such a goal. We have already "perfected" nuclear fission, and the proven reserves of uranium and thorium existing in this country alone would be sufficient to render nearly unlimited power for centuries. Yet this prospect has been substantially sabotaged by government regulatory practice and superstitious opposition by ecological agitators.
Second is the fact that, contrary to what has been advertised, nuclear fusion is just as "dirty" a process as nuclear fission, from the standpoint of radioactive-material generation. True, fusion reaction products are nonradioactive, but the intense neutron environment of a fusion reaction necessarily transmutes the materials from which the reaction vessel is constructed, which must be removed periodically, generating thousands of tons of radioactive waste. (This "first wall" replacement problem was recognized 20 years ago.)
Third is the fact that the major laboratories funded to perform fusion research have no intention of commercializing the process; they are government laboratories whose primary interest is the continuing research into the plasma physics of fusion reactions, for the purpose of better understanding and predicting the effects of thermonuclear weapons. The myth of "clean" fusion power is occasionally thrown to the public for justification of their budget.
Despite these circumstances, cold fusion remains an unexplained phenomenon. It may possibly shed light on alternative nuclear reaction processes. It may even be the Holy Grail, as many would like to think. One thing seems assured: The necessary research appears to be at a level that would permit many modestly funded investigators to make great strides. This may explain the antagonism of those in the nationally funded laboratories, for if cold fusion is revealed to be a reality, their budgets may be in jeopardy.
Michael J. Dunn
What Causes AIDS?
Peter W. Huber writes that by refusing to take the junk science of AIDS seriously, wise judges help to put a stop to it ("Quoth the Maven," Nov.). Huber would be much surprised to learn the true state of AIDS junk science. Consider the following facts:
Centers for Disease Control reports show that more than 80 percent of individuals who have acquired antibody to HIV, presumably by infection with HIV, have not come down with AIDS diseases, even after 10 years. Each year, only 3 percent of those who have antibody to HIV get AIDS diseases; 97 percent do not. Chimpanzees experimentally infected with HIV develop high levels of the virus and produce antibody, but have not yet developed AIDS.
Although HIV can infect both sexes and the same percentage of men and women in the military have antibody to HIV, 80 percent of the AIDS cases reported by the CDC involve people 20 to 44 years old, 90 percent of whom are men. So the virus can infect everybody, but the diseases only appear in a specific group of men. Yet, on the basis of facts such as these, the general public has been told to accept the dogma that HIV causes AIDS, as announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler in 1984 and supported by the AIDS establishment ever since.
While most of the individuals who come down with AIDS are homosexual men (about 20,000 per year), does this mean that homosexual contacts produce AIDS? Not likely. If we define a homosexual as one who has had one or more same-gender sexual contacts during the past year, there are about 2 million homosexual males in the United States. Yet only 1 percent of these come down with AIDS in any year; 99 percent do not.
In HIV-infected humans, a sharply reduced level of T- lymphocytes is regarded as the hallmark of the disease. The reduced level is thought to be caused by HIV. Yet the virus can be found in only 0.2 percent of T-lymphocytes and is active in only 0.01 percent of such cells. Where is the evidence that HIV causes any T-cell loss or any pathology at all after antibodies are produced?
In view of these unsupportable contentions, an international group of 35 biomedical scientists and others having special knowledge of this subject have joined together to form the Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV/AIDS Hypothesis. We have called for a thorough reappraisal of the existing evidence for and against the HIV hypothesis, to be conducted by a suitable independent group. We further propose that critical epidemiological studies be devised and undertaken. These critical studies are now needed more than ever because the papers most frequently cited to support the HIV hypothesis have been determined to be fraudulent on a number of counts after an 18-month investigation by the National Institutes of Health.
I suspect that the "experts" do not want the HIV hypothesis tested. After all, it is the basis of their research, and their funding. A carefully designed prospective study of HIV+ and HIV– individuals who are not on drugs or AZT probably would find the same rates of morbidity and mortality, thereby ruling out the HIV hypothesis. Although a death blow to the HIV hypothesis, such a result would clear the way so that the true cause of AIDS can be discovered.
As a biochemical scientist, I am most disappointed by the effect of AIDS on the integrity of science itself. Many of my colleagues know that something is very fishy about the HIV story, yet they refuse to look into the evidence (or admit they have) and say that they are "busy with other things" or that "the resolution of any problems is better left to the experts." Meanwhile, the research money rolls in from Washington, and scientists who know better remain silent.
Charles A. Thomas Jr.
Executive Committee Member
Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV/AIDS Hypothesis
San Diego, CA
Look for the Union Label
I agree with the main point of Thomas Hazlett's column on the proliferation of devices for the communication of ideas ("Do the Cheap Thing," Oct.). But the statement, "Forget about the union label on a Spike Lee project," is incorrect. One of my sons, a member of Local 52 of the IATSE, has worked with Mr. Lee on his last three or four projects and is employed as a grip on Mr. Lee's film biography of Malcolm X. Almost the entire crew belongs to the film production union.
Apprentices are the one exception: Mr. Lee has made an arrangement with the union to train young men and women on the job—a rather traditional way of handing on the knowledge of one's trade.
Lawrence D. Skutch
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".