David Kelley ("The Rights Angle," Jan.) and Richard D. Mohr ("Clinton's Protection Racket," Jan.) argue that the involuntary security provided by the Clinton National Health Plan comes at a very high moral price–a message that is completely ignored in the public debate. Apparently it is simply inconceivable to most commentators that many people would actually prefer freedom and individual responsibility in making their health-care choices to police-enforced, bureaucratically managed medical plans. The fundamental problem is that the distinction between legal rights and moral obligations is being blurred to the detriment of both–or, in other words, the functions of state and church are being merged.
Kelley makes it clear that the definition of rights that is both traditional in America and the most rational is that of liberty rights, the right to be free of coercive or fraudulent impositions by others on our freedom of speech and action. The government's role is then largely negative or neutral, as a referee.
When a charitable group like a church provides services to its constituents, it is usually clear that the obligations–to the extent that they exist at all–are moral rather than legal. Mohr recognizes that when the state provides charity, it is usually accompanied by legal obligations that limit freedoms. Can you imagine the ultimate outcome of allowing life-and-death decisions to be legislated instead of pondered by families and their physicians in our litigious society? The Clintons have, and apparently they like it. Mohr has, and obviously doesn't.
Wayne M. Turner
I am a psychiatrist, and my hope is that psychotherapy will be excluded from the health-care plan. The idea of people telling me their darkest secrets and my being obliged to enter this information into the Health Security Database is an Orwellian nightmare in which I do not wish to participate. I wonder how Clinton, who has had psychotherapy, might feel about his psychiatric diagnosis and treatment becoming public record?
James O'Brien, M.D.
Los Angeles, CA
Milton Friedman made the point that government advertising can frequently be more misleading and deceptive than that of the private sector. While the specious Clinton health-care plan isn't exactly promising all Americans the Cadillac of health-care coverage, it is, at least, alluding to a Saturn in every garage. After the dust has thoroughly settled, and the Clintons have been relegated to the task of writing their memoirs, I'm afraid that most consumers will find themselves, in effect, driving a Trabant while being forced to make payments on a Mercedes.
Spirit Lake, WI
Sophomores in Uniform
I agree with Jack Kammer ("Recovering from a Tailspin," Jan.) that Tailhook and similar matters are blown out of proportion. But he overlooks a more important issue. The military services are remarkably dysfunctional and by any standard of industry should have gone out of business long ago. Tailhook is not about the treatment of women but rather a glimpse at military life as it is and not as we imagine it. These people are part of an enormous frat house on the public dole.
My father served in World War II, and I served in Vietnam. There was never any question whether I would volunteer. But when I got to a combat zone and realized the same sophomoric minds were at work there as in basic training, I concluded that the military was stupid. These people in Vietnam weren't fighting a war; they were engaging in military exercises with live ammunition. Today it's worse. Can women do the same thing, participate in stupid, deadly games? Sure, the sexual organs of the participants don't really matter if it is just a game anyhow.
The military needs some form of free-market competition instead of an endless supply of resources to support its inane behavior. Tailhook wasn't just people blowing off steam, nor are the pranks at the Naval Academy harmless fun. These people's behavior indicates that they are too irresponsible to wear the uniform of men who died for their country. What we are seeing is people making rank, making lots of money, enjoying special privileges, and gravitating to the lowest level of behavior their command will allow. As an issue, the military treatment of women pales in comparison.
Murder by Virus
Perhaps Gregory Benford ("The Designer Plague," Jan.) will have the distinction of popularizing the terrorism he fears. While we accept that there are certain liabilities that accompany First Amendment rights, must REASON give voice to such madness in an attempt to display prophetic vision, or in the rush to say "I told you so"?
Benford does not offer even a single example of deliberate harm or an environmental zealot suggesting or advocating the use of a designer virus. He has elevated the simple metaphor of "cancerous" population growth to something akin to a starter recipe for disaster. It is sad that an obviously intelligent writer feels compelled to resort to tawdry sensationalism as a vehicle for those few paragraphs that offer constructive ideas about the future of population and technology.
Someone could commit mass murder in the name of the environment. But Gregory Benford's article suggests many "reasons" for such a crime: It would "solve" problems of mass immigration and Third World nuclear proliferation.
As a "deep ecologist" who has supported markets and classical liberalism for over 30 years, I am appalled at Benford's irresponsible innuendos. There is a lunatic fringe to every position. I have heard "libertarians" defend infanticide because the infant is a "parasite" that cannot support itself. Others say the poor should be allowed to sell themselves into slavery to support their families. Do I rebut Hayek or Rand by attacking such views? Will a free society lead to infanticide or slavery?
Deep ecologists argue that nature has value regardless of human judgment. Beyond that point, views differ. There is nothing necessarily anti-human here. No one knows the answer to overpopulation. But not knowing an answer does not lead to mass murder.
I enjoyed Gregory Benford's article. But it includes one "fact" that must have been a typo: "World population grows by 900,000 yearly." If only it were so. The best guesstimates are 800,000 to 1 million new mouths a day.
Concerning "The Designer Plague," a good science-fiction novel has been written on this topic: Frank Herbert's The White Plague (1982). In that book, a scientist whose wife is an accidental victim of an IRA bombing single-handedly conjures up his revenge in his basement with $1 million. He unleashes it upon Ireland and, just to be fair, on Britain and Libya as well. The method: contaminated paper money mailed to charitable organizations in those countries.
Albert K. Heitzmann
Mr. Benford replies: Readers Walker and diZerega are confused about time scales and intention. Of course nobody advocates such madness now, certainly not openly. Technology for a designer virus will be common in one or two decades. Combined with a mindset we see growing now, it could lead to calamity. This is not an "innuendo" but a prediction, if matters go on as they have. Surely anticipating a problem is better than keeping mum about it, especially since, as Mr. Heitzmann points out, designer plagues for revenge are an old fictional device. My scenario would replace revenge with more lofty goals. And alas, Mr. Relentless is right: The problem is even worse than I said.
Does Size Matter?
Virginia Postrel did a great job of exposing the small-business job-creation myth ("Populist Industrial Policy," Jan.). Most consumers don't care what size firm their goods and services come from; buyers rarely know at the point of purchase the actual ownership and corporate structure of each link in the distribution channel.
I have seen a lot of confusion on the part of policy makers and researchers in regard to data on employment, economic development, and job creation. This confusion often leads to bad policy. Is an individual Hardee's restaurant a small, medium-size, or large business? I don't care. Sometimes I just want a hamburger.
The best public policy is to minimize regulation and taxes for businesses of all sizes. There are numerous ways to deliver goods and services to consumers. Potential entrepreneurs should be able to pursue their dreams, and large or small companies should be free to become as efficient as possible in delivering goods and services. Government has no role in favoring certain sizes.
Donald I. Carrington
I hope Virginia Postrel's timely essay will, once and for all, destroy the myth that small businesses create the most new jobs. The truth is that most small businesses create low-paying jobs. Highly paid jobs are mainly created by anonymous entrepreneurs, called "Gazelles" by David Birch. About one in 10 Gazelles will start a new technical enterprise and rapidly move through the "small business" phase of corporate development to become a large firm employing many highly skilled and paid workers.
Public-policy debates about job creation do not distinguish between start-up firms and small businesses, which are different and sequential phases of successful corporate development. The principal difference is that start-up firms have yet to earn taxable profits. It follows, then, that tax-based benefits for ongoing businesses do not necessarily benefit start-up firms.
Take the tax deduction for research-and-development expenses. Start-up firms benefit only if and when they become small businesses. Hoping to attract the interest of outside investors, most entrepreneurs have no choice but to pay the earliest start-up costs out of pocket by refinancing their homes and autos, depleting their savings, and working uncompensated hours. If they abandon their start-up firms before earning taxable profits, they lose their personal investments without tax relief. Yet ongoing businesses may annually deduct their venture expenses from profits earned by current production and keep all the tax savings from abandoned ventures.
President Clinton's proposed industrial policy also promotes venture inequality. It gives government the responsibility to select certain commercial technologies and share with private firms the cost of developing them. The government's 50-percent share does not dilute the developers' ownership–a deal not found in private capital markets, where investors demand equity. The developers' shareholders benefit from undiluted production profits and tax-financed marketplace advantages over their competitors.
Anonymous entrepreneurs, including Birch's Gazelles, are shut out. They do not already own or employ the technical resources needed to develop the favored technologies, have not yet established a product-development track record, and are unable to afford the mandatory cost sharing.
I don't know about job "creation," but according to the 1992 Statistical Abstract of the United States, establishments with under 100 employees employed 18.2 million more people in 1989 than they did in 1975, while establishments with over 100 employees employed only 13.2 million more people in the same time period.
Robert L. Boysen
Ms. Postrel replies: There are many problems with simply toting up net job figures from the Statistical Abstract. Consider the one to which Mr. Carrington alludes: Grouping businesses by "establishment" size means that every retail outlet counts as a separate business, making an individual Hardee's a "small business" even though it's part of a large corporation. And the question of where new jobs come from isn't a question about aggregate net new jobs. What we want to know is, in gross terms, where new or displaced workers will find work. In the study of manufacturing businesses I cited, researchers found that big companies account for the largest number of both newly created jobs and of newly destroyed jobs. So individual big companies are critical sources of new jobs. There are other problems, such as how to deal with firms that cross from "small" to "big," and vice versa, during the period studied–something simple aggregation à la the Statistical Abstract doesn't account for. The bottom line is that size alone tells you nothing about the prospects of an individual firm. Picking winners by size class doesn't work, and government policy should be neutral.
However repugnant one might consider China's coercive one-child-per-family policy, the solution cannot be to grant political asylum in the United States to every Chinese wishing to have a second child ("No Refuge," Dec.). If for no other reason, it is a practical impossibility to grant asylum to everyone in a country the size of China who is of childbearing age.
Even if one fervently believes that China's policy is an egregious violation of human rights and that the United States has a moral obligation to pressure the Chinese government to change that policy, our asylum laws are not a very effective vehicle for accomplishing that objective. The Chinese government cares a whole lot more about the ability to export its products to the United States than it does about the people on the Golden Venture.
In citing the case of Chang Zhen, Steven Mosher asks us to consider the predicament of a single sympathetic individual. As we read about Mr. Chang's odyssey, we identify with him while losing sight of the fact that there are countless millions of people around the world who have stories at least as compelling as his.
As Mr. Chang's story is being spun out, most readers are likely to overlook the fact that there were probably many points in his journey when he could have presented himself to international authorities such as the United Nations and requested protection as a refugee. Instead, Mr. Chang chose to come to the United States illegally and request political asylum. In effect, what he attempted to do was jump ahead of 20 million refugees around the world who are waiting their turn for resettlement.
Was Mr. Chang's real objective to gain protection from persecution in China, which he could have received from the United Nations when he entered Thailand, or was his real objective coming to the United States? For most Chinese who claim to be fleeing China's one-child policy, the true motive is in fact the latter.
The only real solution to the plight of people in China and other countries with repressive governments is to push for democratic reform at home, not for political asylum in the United States. The United States can lend limited support to such movements, but the primary responsibility rests with the people of those countries.
Daniel A. Stein
Federation for American Immigration Reform
Mr. Mosher replies: Chi An, whose fight against China's one-child policy I recently recounted in A Mother's Ordeal (Harcourt Brace), became in 1988 the first Chinese to receive political asylum in the United States on that ground. The Immigration and Naturalization Service vigorously opposed granting her asylum, arguing that it would "open the floodgates" to a vast torrent of illegal Chinese immigrants.
In the years since, the "flood" predicted by the INS has not materialized. Nor will it. China is separated from America by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean and is governed by a regime that keeps close tabs on the movements of its population. A million pregnant women are not about to wash up on our shores. We will not, as Mr. Stein warns ominously, have to "grant asylum to everyone in…China who is of childbearing age." But to those few Chinese who risk their lives and fortunes to come here, we owe a fair hearing.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".