Policy

Letters

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Off the Dole

In your forum on welfare reform ("Working on Welfare," Apr.), I was disappointed to see so little consensus among the policy experts about what to do. While we wait for consensus, I suggest a simple compromise: End welfare for new recipients, but keep it in place for current recipients. Grandfathering in existing welfare recipients would be an admission of mistakes made by the government when it designed the welfare system. Those who joined the welfare rolls were only responding to the perverse incentives set up by the government. In a very real sense they were doing exactly what the government told them to.

I was also disappointed by Charles Murray's endorsement of unemployment insurance. He ignores what Henry Hazlitt called the "one lesson" of economics, that you must look "not merely at the immediate, but also at the longer effects" of any policy. Unemployment insurance cushions the blows from recession but also prolongs recession, as individuals become less willing to accept jobs at lower wages and taxes to finance the program reduce the level of new investment.

Luke Froeb
Owen Graduate School of Management
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN

You get together three "welfare reform" pundits, including the sainted Charles Murray, and the most they can do is bleat about the business cycle, guaranteed jobs, and social engineering schemes to restore the sacred nuclear family. Clearly they remember the way everyone rolled in wealth during the Depression, when everyone came from a two-parent family.

Here is voodoo economics indeed: "It's a lot better for people to work than not to work." How quaint. What the hell does having a guaranteed job have to do with working? What's sacred about turning up, punching a clock, and slacking off for eight hours? If the "employee" even bothers to stay on site. These are, after all, guaranteed jobs. If the best a free-market bastion such as REASON can come up with is Big Government and a new smokescreen for the welfare state, what do we need liberals for?

Victor Milan
Albuquerque, NM

Specialist Needs

John Hood's article ("All in the Family Practice," Apr.) is right on. The president's "Health Security Plan" would take medicine back to where it was when I started practice 45 years ago as far as specialization is concerned. With fewer specialists in practice, they would locate in cities, as they did then. It was hard to reach them and harder still to get a patient under their care.

Two ideas help drive the Health Security Plan: that doctors can save money by preventing illness and that medicine can be practiced more cheaply by nurse practitioners. Both are false. Most of what passes for prevention is actually early diagnosis. It is expensive. "Community health clinics" care for patients with nurse practitioners now, but they cost more, not less, than private medicine.

The division of labor is fundamental to civilization, and no place is this more true than in medical care. A good general practitioner is the least expensive entry point into the system. He and his patients need specialists available if the quality of patient care is not to slip backward.

W. Edward Jordan Jr., M.D.
Skowhegan, ME

John Hood quotes the wanna-be president, Hillary, as saying, "There will clearly still be opportunities to go into specialties and subspecialties. But you know, it's about time we start thinking about the common good and the national interest, instead of just individuals, in our country."

Didn't we just spend 45-plus years (and many lives) fighting socialists and communists who said the "national interest" was more important than the individual and then set out to deprive the individual of his/her rights in favor of the "national interest"? Is it 1917 again?

Ric Crawford
Acton, CA

Contingent Truths

I was intrigued by Ida L. Walters's article "Temping Fate" (Apr.) because I've been one of those "disposable" workers, by happy choice, since 1975. What I would really like to know is why anyone thinks we are a "problem."

As a technical writer and logistics engineer, I've worked for commercial companies and defense contractors from coast to coast and border to border on a contractual basis for 18 years and hope to continue to do so indefinitely. For my efforts I receive more pay, not less, than "captive" employees. The higher discretionary income allows me to plan for my own benefits as best suits me. Job security, I learned long ago, is not working a lifetime for one employer and then retiring; job security is being very good at what you do combined with a willingness to go anywhere in the country, or world, to do it.

But our way of life is under governmental attack. In recent years the very concept of consulting has been redefined, grossly interfering with our constitutional right to contract directly with a client and instead forcing most of us to become W-2 employees of independent contracting firms that in turn contract our services to the client. And we've now been denied the right to deduct our very substantial away-from-home expenses if an out-of-town job lasts more than a year, a situation that will harm both client and contract employee, since most of us will quit and return home before the year, and the job, is up.

Ms. Walters claims there's a hidden agenda behind the "myth" of the contingent work force: a desire by the Labor Department and the unions to control the "problem" to their own benefit. While I don't doubt her assessment of these two power-hungry entities, most of us in this industry identify the true culprit as the IRS. As Tom Bethell pointed out in "The Mother of All Rights" in the same issue: "`It was only as the bedouin could be induced to settle and invest in immovable objects that they could be controlled.' For `controlled,' read `taxed,' which is to say: expropriated." It's far easier to control, tax, and expropriate a stationary work force than it is to dominate the nomadic lifestyle of the freedom-loving contract employee.

Garry L. Reed
Ft. Worth, TX

Jury Duty

Virginia Postrel brings out a fundamental paradox of American criminal justice: A jury, consisting of ordinary people, is bound to follow the law and may only evaluate the credibility of evidence and testimony; the jury may only decide facts and render a decision of guilt or innocence based upon the law. On the other hand, judges are bound to uphold the law and to instruct the jury properly on the law.

The results of some sensationalized criminal trials have led many observers, including Ms. Postrel, to conclude that judges or juries in general are shirking their responsibility to ensure that perpetrators of violent crimes go to jail. As a matter of law, such generalizations are misplaced.

When instructing a jury, a judge should keep in mind that American law is based upon fundamental morality. A keen judge, sorting out the irrelevant issues in a case, should remember that American law is rooted in the basic principle that an individual is responsible (and liable) for his or her own actions. Bearing this in mind, a judge will limit the availability of the insanity defense and discourage arguments that other people, agencies, or laws sanction or encourage violent behavior. Criminal defendants will thereby be viewed less frequently as victims and more often as individuals responsible for their own actions.

Ms. Postrel confuses morality with personal bias and forgets the role of the prosecutor in screening jurors when she writes, "A good defense lawyer will screen out potential jurors willing to make moral judgments." To suggest that "our juries have gone soft on crime" implies that a jury should be permitted to render a verdict based on its collective bias.

Roy A. Barry
Melville, NY

There has been no clearer principle of English or American law than that in criminal cases, it is not only the right and duty of the jury to judge what are the facts and what is the law and what is the moral intent of the accused, it is also their right and primary and paramount duty to judge the justice of the law and to hold all laws invalid that are, in their opinion, unjust or oppressive and all persons guiltless in violating such laws. (See "An Essay on the Trial by Jury," by Lysander Spooner.)

Juries are not permitted to take the responsibility which is truly theirs because judges uniformly require potential jurors to take an oath not to question any rule of law given to them in the jury instructions. In so doing, the judicial system is subverting the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

By acquitting the person who stands accused of violating an unjust law, the jury does not rewrite the law in question. It merely nullifies it in that particular case. Eventually, the statists will get the message that the law must be changed, since they cannot get convictions under it. The final responsibility for changing the law rests with the legislature, where it belongs. The lack of this jury prerogative has allowed oppressive laws to go unchecked.

Andrew B. Spiegel
Wheaton, IL

Ms. Postrel replies: My argument is not with the juries of Lysander Spooner's day--from which I would have been excluded for reasons having nothing to do with my attitudes toward convictions or tort law--but with the juries of our own day and with the legal system and culture that encourage the acquittal of defendants who admit to committing violent crimes but offer their own "victimhood" to excuse their actions. High-profile cases in which defendants can attract far better lawyers than the typical public defender may not yield typical trial results, but they are indicative of widespread attitudes--despite the conventional wisdom that Americans are outraged about crime.

The jury system undoubtedly needs an overhaul. But those who argue for giving juries explicit responsibility for ruling on the law as well as the facts of a case ought to consider the implications of that policy when it is combined with a culture of victimhood that declines to hold individuals responsible for their actions (a moral judgment, pace Mr. Barry) and a jury system that screens out huge swaths of the population, including those people who are most likely to apply the law objectively. (Because jurors aren't adequately compensated for their time and are therefore excused if their employers' don't pay for their jury days, the system also stacks juries with government employees and retirees.) And they might consider the effect that jury discretion has already had on the tort system: "Compassionate" jurors have used their power to redistribute huge sums from "deep-pocket" defendants to injured parties even when the defendants' responsibility for the injury is minimal or nonexistent.

Business Burdens

The next time you address unfunded mandates from government ("Trends," Mar.), you should consider the most onerous and burdensome of all--those imposed on private business and industry. As of now, private businesses are required to:

a) discover, report on, and impose sanctions for violations of the federal laws regarding immigration and "undocumented" labor (without, of course, running afoul of an array of contradictory civil-rights statutes and mandates);

b) obtain, post, and maintain a variety of warning signs and posters covering everything from breathing suspected carcinogens, drinking spirits while pregnant, and filing for worker's compensation benefits to practicing earthquake and fire safety;

c) reconstruct or modify their facilities and practices to accommodate an as yet undetermined aggregation of disabled employees and customers, so far including (among many others) recovering alcoholics, former mental patients, obese people, and those with actual physical disabilities;

d) obtain a wide assortment of licenses, permits, approvals, and authorities from several levels of government simply to be allowed to conduct their business;

e) levy, collect, and remit various sales, use, excise, withholding, Social Security, and other taxes; and

f) develop procedures for, enforce, and report on the enforcement of dozens of workplace statutes and regulations, including those concerned with health, zoning, safety, injuries, construction, emergencies, parking, lighting, and air quality.

All this is expected without any funding from the entities imposing the requirements. Indeed, in addition to the inherent costs of carrying out these mandates, businesses are usually required to pay the regulators for all sorts of mandatory filings, documents, permits, and audits. I suspect the aggregate cost to private businesses (and the U.S. economy) of meeting these "unfunded mandates" makes the cost to the cities pale into insignificance.

Paul Bent
Long Beach, CA

Mailed and Mauled

The April 1994 issue arrived looking as though it had been read, dog-eared, and passed from one person to another, until the entire U.S. Postal Service had read it and further mutilated it. If I thought they had actually read it, I wouldn't mind, on the off chance that they might have learned something, but I fear that is not what happened. Reason(ing) tells me that it was mutilated in passing, as it was transferred from one conveyance to another.

Some of my other magazines come in a plastic, sealed mailer which protects them from the type of tender loving care that the Postal Service gives them. I used to enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles, but they didn't consist of entire magazine issues.

Frank Webster
Detroit, MI

The editors reply: We heard from several readers about mauled April and May issues, so we looked into "poly-bagging," as it's known in the trade. It would cost us $2,000 an issue--almost half our budget for paying authors. So until a generous donor blesses us with a tax-deductible poly-bag fund, we'll be happy to replace any issue that arrives looking like a jigsaw puzzle. Please contact our circulation director, Alyssa Garey, and she'll send out a replacement copy immediately.