Smoked Out

I was delighted by Jacob Sullum's companion articles on the anti-smoking movement, "Let's Make a Deal?" and "Dealers' Choice" (October). As someone who smokes an occasional cigarette with pleasure (once a month), I am frustrated to observe the tobacco debate being monopolized by professional victims and prohibitionists. These people cannot explain why social smokers like me–people who can take it or leave it–exist. But we are many.

Incidentally, in the "Family Filmgoer" column in The Washington Post, the latest movies are screened for sex, violence, and–you guessed it–cigarette smoking.

Neil Inglis

Frying Spam

As Michael Lynch noted in his article "Unlovely Spam" (October) on proposed bans of computer "spam"–mass unsolicited e-mail messages–spam is at root a pricing problem. But Lynch didn't go into depth on the reason why. Due to the strange structure of telephone network access charges, an imposition of the FCC, most Internet service providers do not charge users more to send a greater volume of mail. Economics takes over–any good that is free will be used without restraint–and spam is born. Correspondingly, spam would die if the ISPs changed their pricing policies, or if end users adopted Esther Dyson's solution: If a stranger wants to send you mail, your software will charge him.

This analysis identifies the root cause of spam and suggests a solution. But it does not justify a spam ban. Michael Lynch says, "It is unacceptable for any party…to force anyone else to pay for something that he or she doesn't want." But are end users really being forced to pay for spam, when that spam is a foreseeable consequence of their contracts with ISPs under current pricing policies? I think the answer is no.

What about the argument that spam is trespass on one's e-mail box? The property rights approach is tempting. But accepting this argument really stretches our understanding of the rules that govern e-mail, such as they are. Property and contract rights need to be clear. The rules of cyberspace just aren't clear enough to call spam a violation. While the Internet originally wasn't used for commercial purposes, that's changed now.

I think ISPs have a strong trespass argument against spammers–if the ISP has notified the spammer he isn't welcome on its network. Maybe, just maybe, an individual e-mail user can make the same argument, if he's told a spammer to back off. But the default rules of e-mail do not clearly outlaw spam from the start. I don't think any libertarian would want an Internet where that which is not expressly allowed is assumed to be prohibited.

While property rights are essential to the resolution of conflicts in any space, "cyber" or not, the existence of a dispute doesn't mean that property or contract rights are being violated. Indeed, it might mean that clear property or contract rights have not been laid out. This seems to be the case with computer spam.

Solveig Singleton
Director of Information Studies
Cato Institute
Washington, DC

Women at Work

Nick Gillespie's otherwise enjoyable and informative review of three recent books on family and divorce ("Family Ways," October) contained numerous references to "working" and "nonworking" women. While I know Gillespie doesn't intend this, use of these terms perpetuates the myth that before wives moved into the paid workplace, they were not "working."

In fact, most stay-at-home moms were engaged in many hours a day of household production, from washing clothes and cooking meals to doing piecework for friends and neighbors. In the past 30 years, labor-saving devices and new food and service enterprises have supplanted the need for a full-time household production worker to support a family's needs, thus allowing the majority of women who want to work outside the home (most of whom apparently prefer part-time over full-time jobs, by the way) to do so economically.

This is not simply a semantic point. It makes clear how economic change and innovation can confer profound social benefits. It also helps to explain the findings of studies Gillespie quotes about the lack of maternal bonding differences between children in day care and children reared at home. Hard work, whether at home or outside of it, trades off with the ability to interact directly with a child.

My mother and countless other family members grew up in a time in which most moms worked hard at home. The children correspondingly had a great deal of free and essentially unsupervised time (when they weren't doing chores themselves). The notion that stay-at-home moms earlier in the century were full-time caretakers of their children is a silly one and further obscures the issues surrounding work and family.

John Hood
Raleigh, NC

Drum Beat

Charles Oliver's column on the enforcement of Oklahoma's child pornography statute ("The Tin Drum Meets the Tin Badge," October) appropriately targets the First Amendment issues raised by this sordid affair. However, Oliver failed to cite the Fourth Amendment in discussing the Oklahoma City police's raids on citizens' homes and businesses.

The Fourth Amendment states that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." My dictionary defines effects simply as "movable goods"; thus it should not require a wild-eyed judicial activist to observe that "effects" surely include video cassettes.

Common sense should also suffice to reject the police contention that "we solicited the voluntary cooperation of the people in trying to abate future legal problems," a statement obviously made to give the illusion that the searches and seizures were consensual and that no warrants were necessary.

The homeowners, tenants, and business people abused by these local officials should not require the Video Privacy Act of 1988 to protect them from governmental madness. The Fourth Amendment has not been repealed, but it requires a modicum of courage and decency on the part of federal and state courts to enforce it vigorously. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis stated in Olmstead v. United States that the Founding Fathers "conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone…the right most valued by civilized men."

Kenneth Kleiner
Staten Island, NY

Hit the Nail on the Head

Virginia Postrel's editorial "The Nail File" (October) was one of the most insightful I have read about the beauty industry, which almost prides itself on its smallness. As a small business in a small industry, I believe the balance weighs in favor of being overlooked by big government as opposed to being over-examined.

Obscurity does present financing, recruiting, and image challenges, so we may not always be the first choice of America's best and brightest. "Hidden" industries offset these challenges by the benefits of a free market economy that rewards entrepreneurial drive and risk taking.

The small industry is also threatened by the almost equally heavy hand of big business. The clout of a $25 billion business can wreak havoc on a $100 million business. A company the size of Bristol-Myers can buy its way into the beauty industry and leave a path of broken business in its wake before divesting itself of the industry. It happened with Dow, Syntex, and American Cynamide in the beauty industry.

The ignorance of big government can be bliss, and perhaps America wants to keep policy makers inside the Beltway and out of our business.

Kevin Linehan
Standard Beauty Supply Inc.
Omaha, NE