Letters

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On the Books

I've just finished reading "What Should the President Read?" (Dec.), and I find it appalling that no one mentioned the Holy Bible. If men like Washington, Lincoln, Patton, and Schwartzkopf could turn to the Bible for wisdom and guidance, it would certainly be of greater use to President Clinton.

I would also recommend he read That Every Man be Armed, by Stephen P. Halbrook and Preferential Policies, by Thomas Sowell.

Ed Littleton
Seaford, DE

I have one recommendation for the president: Colin Wilson's Criminal History of Mankind. Wilson focuses on the motivations of criminals in history from a psychological point of view. He believes that when (what he calls) a person's reality is in conflict with what a person sees in the world, the natural reaction is for him to say that the world is "unfair" or "wrong." Acting to adjust the world to fit one's paradigm, instead of correcting one's paradigm to fit the world, is what makes a person or society "criminal." This is must reading for anyone who thinks that they can solve the problems of the world.

Fred Hemker
Battle Creek, MI

Here is my list of books for the president: Human Action, by Ludwig von Mises; The Constitution of Liberty, by F. A. Hayek; Leftism Revisited: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Pol Pot, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn; Modern Times, by Paul Johnson; Intellectuals, by Paul Johnson; A Basic History of the United States, by Clarence B. Carson; Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville; Our Enemy, the State, by Albert Jay Nock; The Federalist Papers, by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay; Two Treatises of Civil Government, by John Locke; The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith; The Law, by Frederic Bastiat; Trashing the Planet, by Dixy Lee Ray; Bionomics: The Inevitability of Capitalism, by Michael Rothschild; Animal Farm and 1984, by George Orwell; Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay; The Great Deceit, by Zigmond Dobbs; The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer; Free to Choose, by Milton and Rose Friedman; Economic Freedom and Interventionism, by Ludwig von Mises.

Zak Arthur Klemmer
Tucson, AZ

No list of presidential reading would be complete without The Prize by Daniel Yergin. This history of the oil industry and its individual players contains invaluable insights into the lengths ruthless men and companies will go to impose their will on nations.

Two other books would make my list. The Truman Presidency, edited by Michael J. Lacey, and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

W. Robert Thompson
Nashville, TN

I wasn't sure whether the proper response to David Brudnoy's anti-immigrant screech in "What Should the President Read?" was fury or laughter.

A couple of quick reality checks: What relevance do relics of the Habsburg and Russian empires—in which disparate people were mashed together into ersatz "nations" like red and black ants forced into the same ant-farm—have to the voluntary association that is the United States?

And what "Mexican irredentism in our own Southwest" is Brudnoy talking about? Mexican nationals and Americans of Mexican descent are two very different ethnic groups. To simplify: a) the vast majority of Mexican-Americans don't want to go back to Mexico; and b) most Mexicans don't want them back.

Take Brudnoy seriously only when he has repatriated himself to the lands his own ancestors came from. If they came from two different countries, I recommend the wisdom of Solomon.

Victor Milan
Albuquerque, NM

Thought Crimes

High accolades to Jacob Sullum for his article about hate-crime laws. ("What's Hate Got to Do with It?," Dec.) The ambivalence of some ACLU chapters on this issue is further proof of the erosion of support for the First Amendment within that organization.

All the activities punishable under hate crimes laws are already crimes. Adding an enhanced penalty because the criminal is a racist is clearly policing thought. It's so obvious I fail to understand why everyone doesn't see it.

Proponents of such laws often say that the criminal law always takes mental state into account. But the intent that must be proved to obtain a conviction in criminal court is the intent to commit the criminal act (he intended to kill his wife), not the underlying reason in the person's mind (he intended to kill her to collect the life insurance money). The latter type of intent is irrelevant as far as obtaining a criminal conviction. By attempting to expand the legal definition of "intent" to include "motivation," we are opening a frightful Pandora's box for the future of criminal law, where every crime on the books could have different levels of punishment, depending on how "bad" your thoughts were.

This prospect alone should cause the ACLU and others to oppose these laws.

Mark Lambert
Des Moines, IA

Jacob Sullum correctly points out that the issue of motivation is not necessarily relevant to justice for the criminal.

Unfortunately, his article ignores the other function of the criminal justice system, which is to protect potential victims by incarcerating the convicted criminal as long as the latter is likely to repeat his crime. Here group hate is relevant.

Someone who hates and kills a cheating lover or an abusive boss does not necessarily have a motive for killing anyone else. In many cases such a person can be safely released once the requirements of punishment and deterrence have been satisfied. In contrast, someone who kills because he hates all homosexuals has a proven motive to kill and kill again. Releasing him puts innocent people in danger of their lives. The proper function of "hate laws" is to guide the courts and parole boards in reconciling justice for the criminal with justice to potential victims.

Adam V. Reed
Morganville, NJ

Crimes motivated by hate add another dimension of terror and harm to victims already brutalized by crime. There is legal precedent to consider the intent and motive in crimes and to assess punishment accordingly. Hate crimes should be viewed in the same light.

Libertarians may wish to look carefully at the ADL and ACLU model legislation, especially the sections dealing with restitution to victims. Restitution is very important, for it is the cornerstone of a libertarian legal system where individuals have recourse to restore their life to its state prior to a crime.

Current laws are insufficient to remedy the harm done by most crimes, because most laws do not allow restitution to victims. Here may be an opportunity to advance the idea of restitution for crimes committed against people to other areas.

Dave D. Doss
Tacoma, WA

Mr. Sullum replies: Mr. Reed is correct that a defendant's beliefs might indicate that he is likely to commit a crime again. Depending upon your view of what the criminal-justice system should do, this could mean that more severe punishment is appropriate (to provide greater deterrence or to incapacitate him longer). But it's important to recognize that the same analysis could apply to criminals who are not bigots. What about the anti-abortion militant who has pledged to blow up every Planned Parenthood clinic in the country, or the Maoist terrorist who has promised to murder every banker?

Furthermore, not all "hate criminals" fall into the category of dedicated, lifelong bigots committed to violence. They may be simply going along with a crowd, following a momentary whim, or expressing transitory anger. This does not excuse their crimes, but it does suggest that they do not necessarily represent more of a threat than the average criminal.

Mr. Doss asserts that hate crimes cause more harm to the victim. This is often true, but not always. As I noted in my article, the definition of a hate crime is not based on harm to the victim. In any event, a judge is free to take harm into account when passing sentence or ordering restitution.

Vat's Up

Rick Henderson's article "Consuming Debate" (Dec.) highlights the very real danger that a Clinton administration, joined by congressmen with big spending plans, in search of cash might attempt to impose a European-style value-added tax on the backs of the American people.

To fight this threat, Rep. Dick Armey (R–Tex.) and Rep. Tom DeLay (R–Tex.) have formed the Anti–Value-Added Tax Caucus in the Congress. To date, 104 members of the House and Senate have committed their opposition to a VAT.

Any Clinton effort to impose a VAT would saddle the Democrats with the responsibility of introducing American taxpayers to this European tax. The entire Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has joined the Anti-VAT Caucus, and the Republican platforms of 1988 and 1992 flatly commit the Republican party to oppose a VAT.

Grover Norquist
Citizens Against a National Sales Tax/VAT
Washington, DC

The insidious part of the VAT idea is this: All too often when it has been imposed, it has been in addition to, not instead of existing income-and investment-based taxes. And the extra money raised by a VAT has generally simply been spent on—ironically enough—government programs based on consumption, such as welfare, instead of investment-based programs, such as infrastructure.

A VAT in the United States would not replace a single existing tax or even result in the lowering of existing tax rates. Indeed, I would look for personal and corporate income-tax rates to go up even with a VAT. I predict that with the present soak-the-rich mentality out there, you'll be seeing 70-percent-plus income-tax brackets again by the end of the decade, just as were the norm in much of Western Europe (with VATs) until very recently.

Edwin Krampitz Jr.
Drewryville, VA

Trained to Obey

You're dead right in warning against President Clinton's proposal to force employers to spend a minimum 1.5 per cent of payroll on formal worker training ("Training Wreck," Dec.).

Australia is into the second year of such a scheme under a federally mandated "Training Guarantee Act" that requires employers with a wages bill of $200,000 per annum or more to spend at least 1.5 percent of it on "structured" training. This is training so defined as to rule out the kind of on-the-job training that constitutes the training needs of the great majority of businesses—especially small businesses. Most larger businesses already spend more than the minimum on structured training, so the act misses its original objective in any case—except that it now requires larger businesses to do a lot of unnecessary paperwork that contributes nothing to training or profitability.

So we're now saddled with more federal bureaucracy, more record keeping and form filling for business, a cost impost that threatens the viability of small businesses at the margin, and an end-of-fiscal-year rush to fit in some "structured" training, even if it's irrelevant to a firm's actual needs and interests. And all of this on the presumption that federal government can employ a single uniform measure to direct enterprise funds to improve performance and profitability for thousands of enterprises in dozens of different industries.

This is the epitome of the "command economy" where government knows best; in our case a government that, after nine years in power, can claim the worst recession in 60 years and an unemployment rate of 11.3 percent.

Barry Maley
Centre for Independent Studies
Sydney, Australia

Kudos to Virginia Postrel for exposing Bill Clinton's plan for coercing businesses into training their workers—a scheme which, she properly notes, will mainly benefit the training industry. Besides, employers naturally train their workers, or else lose market share to competitors who do. But I don't agree that federally coerced training is the most dangerous of Clinton's plans for creating jobs.

That title goes to his plan for federalizing manufacturing technologies. As reported by Shawn Miller in the November 9 Insight, one Clinton adviser believes that taxpayers ought to finance 172 manufacturing centers to advise small manufacturers on "best practices" and "right" technologies and to establish "teaching factories" where employers and employees can test "cutting edge" technologies. If implemented, this plan for federalizing the back end of innovation (production) would add to the Bush administration's "precompetitive generic commercial technologies," which already federalize the front end of innovation (development), giving the state centralized control over future economies.

Hidden in the do-good plan is the fact that all federalized technologies transfer development cost and risk from shareholders to taxpayers without diluting private ownership—a deal not found in private capital markets. But this tax-financed corporate benefit is limited to established businesses. Entrepreneurial start-up firms, which create more jobs and industries than all the Fortune 500 firms taken together, don't qualify as developers, since they neither own the required R&D plant nor employ the required number of engineers.

Clinton would do better to level the innovation playing field for both entrepreneurial start-up firms and established businesses. Since World War II, Congress has tilted it, giving tax benefits to the latter at the expense of the former.

David G. Soergel
Gaithersburg, MD

Bad Timing

In his article on rising political stars ("'96 Peers," Nov.), John Hood relied on an inaccurate Associated Press article in describing South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell's speech to the Republican National Convention in Houston.

Gov. Campbell's address actually ran half as long as the A.P. originally reported (12 minutes, 30 seconds, rather than 24 minutes). This mistake, which was not corrected for nearly a month after it was committed, should not obscure the overwhelmingly positive reception which met the governor's speech.

Tucker Eskew
Press Secretary Office of the Governor
Columbia, SC

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