Global Village or Pillage?
The July REASON contained several articles defending corporate capitalism in the emerging global world order. Not bad, but consider this: Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, capitalism has triumphed globally. Yet we are not living in a freer world, as you document so well. The U.S., via its wars on drugs and terrorism, is turning the world into a globalized police state. Clearly, global capitalism does not equal global liberty. People who have wealth and power will take any steps to safeguard their interests, including and especially initiating force against upstarts who might be foolish enough to believe in democracy or dissent.
REASON does not deal with the era's underlying economic issues: the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system, the internationalization of finance, the maquilas, the connections between American politicians and corporations, to name a few. Instead, we get some perfunctory support for free trade without any context, as if all that matters are slogans that sound vaguely in tune with laissez faire. The fact that free trade is enforced by death squads in Colombia and rubber bullets in the U.S. goes by the boards.
As for "the demonstrators," while frequently described as "misguided" or "confused," they have a fairly cogent message: Fight against concentrations of transnational power, fight against growing repression and the prison-industrial complex, and fight against the homogenization of politics, as represented by the de facto one party system in the U.S.
All the Rage
I thoroughly enjoyed Ronald Bailey's article on the neo-Luddite movement ("Rage Against the Machines," July). Among the many important points he raises is the notion that if we want to reduce inappropriate corporate power, we must eliminate the power of the government to dole out subsidies and protective tariffs. Many people fail to recognize this, imagining that government power acts as a balance to corporate power.
One small quibble regarding Bailey's discussion of the "precautionary principle": The critique doesn't go far enough. Bailey suggests that a scientist could not "prove that a biotech crop was completely safe without the field trials" that the principle would ban.
In fact, no crop -- indeed, no technology -- has ever been proven "completely safe," and none ever will be. The very notion of complete safety is a specious one. The hypothesis "x is completely safe" cannot be proven because it is a universal statement. Universals can only be dis-proven or, to use Karl Popper's word, falsified. Scientists endeavour to falsify their theories, but no amount of field testing will ever prove anything is completely safe.
There are close similarities between neo-Luddites and the genocidal Khmer Rouge of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge were deep ecologists par excellence. They asserted that the cities were dens of sin and corruption, while virtue resided in the countryside. They therefore depopulated the cities, forcing residents into the country at gunpoint.
They compelled these people to return to the land, and to live in remote agricultural villages where they grew organic food without recourse to pesticides or farm equipment. Technology and trade were outlawed. When the crops failed, people starved. The Khmer Rouge refused to relieve the hunger by importing food. Anyone who complained was shot. In this fashion, millions died.
The Khmer Rouge based their program on the doctrines of French intellectuals of the left, whose points of view closely resemble those of the neo-Luddites. Thus, in arguing against today's Luddites, it is worth noting that their program indeed was carried out in Cambodia. It brought the near-suicide of that nation.
T. A. Heppenheimer
Fountain Valley, CA
What a rotten article, Ron Bailey. Surely you're capable of better work. Your willful misrepresentations and "grizzled hippie" stereotyping, combined with your substitution of assertion for evidence, all manage to make the case that technophiles like yourself really aren't in the habit of critical thinking.
The neo-Luddites and others with radical critiques of technology deserve hard-hitting but thoughtful criticism, and the readers of REASON deserve better than what they got from you.
San Francisco, CA
Enemies of Trade
I agree with Evan McElravy: The FTAA protesters in Quebec were misguided, as was the police-state response ("Enemies of Trade," July). But I find a few things in his article troubling. First, it is difficult to imagine that a responsible government would not have police in place and prepared for violence, given the earlier havoc in Seattle. Were I a property owner in Quebec, I would have been happy to have police there. That said, McElravy is right that police actions must be defined by the particular situation, not by past events.
What also troubles me is McElravy's statement, "The case for free trade has been made primarily by cretinous conservative politicians and pundits, who seldom resist ridiculing earnest youngsters looking for a better world." This is needlessly ad hominem and could easily be turned around: "The case has been made primarily by cretinous youngsters and socialists, who seldom resist ridiculing earnest conservative politicians looking for a better world." After all, it was not conservative politicians who advanced political discourse by wearing masks and walking the streets chanting "Fuck George W. Bush."
I enjoyed Evan McElravy's eyewitness account of the Quebec protests from a non-leftist perspective. However, I feel compelled to point out one major flaw. Protesters against free trade are no less misinformed than free trade advocates. Among the few Ph.D.s in economics who have studied the issue for decades, there is no consensus. Granted, the majority of economists in the U.S. favor free trade, but that does not mean there isn't controversy. Moreover, it was not too long ago that Keynesian and Marxist economics held equal sway in the world's universities. Fifty or 100 years from now, some other school of economic thought will likely hold sway.
As we all should remind ourselves periodically, macroeconomics is as much art as science. It is much too complicated for one side in a debate to claim that the other side is completely ignorant of the facts.
Evan McElravy replies: In response to Mr. Manhard, the week after the Quebec protest, I attended a Marxist-Leninist conference where one speaker, holding a photo of police beating protestors, intoned, "This is what their democracy looks like, this is the face of their system!" Though a malicious exaggeration from a fringe group, it augurs ominously for the future, as more and more people -- particularly young people -- seem to associate economic liberalization with political repression. In this climate, it doesn't seem too onerous to ask pro-trade voices to take the high road. Is it really useful to suggest that the officer who killed the protestor in Genoa should be feted on TV, as did a recent Wall Street Journal piece?
As for protecting property, it is a difficult balance. Worth noting, however, is that, in the exposed area outside the Quebec barricade, there was virtually no damage to private property.
As to Mr. Levy, economics may be the "dismal science," but REASON's position has always been that not only is the empirical evidence on the side of expanded trade but that, more importantly, there is no moral basis for interfering with the right of the world's people to engage each other as they please, including via trade.
I call "uninformed" the bulk of protestors whose sole source of information was interest group propaganda brochures -- not a sufficient education on the issue.
Michael Lynch's interview with Federal Elections Commissioner Bradley Smith was thought-provoking ("Professor Smith Goes to Washington," July). Unfortunately, Smith is a poor man's Captain Ahab, obsessed with two giant red herrings in the election reform debate: incumbents and advertising.
Congressional turnover rates are ridiculously low. But the identity of representatives hardly matters, compared to their politics. As long as soft money is unlimited, incumbents who anger the rich and powerful can be replaced with toadies. Incumbency is a result of this problem, not its cause. The deeper problem is private control of the election process, which determines who runs in the first place, and who wins almost every time.
Smith also harbors a naive faith that advertising can compare to news, pamphlets, or public debates as a source of reliable information. Advertising reaches more people, but its claims are dubious, its arguments usually specious, and its packaging paramount. Smith ignores the perverse incentives created by advertising dollars. News coverage costs the networks money, but advertising makes them money. So TV news coverage of political campaigns drops precipitously, while advertising sales increase to compensate. This fattens the media companies, closes the system (most people can't afford TV ads), and trivializes mainstream political debate.
McCain-Feingold does curtail some freedoms. This is not illegitimate, because it thereby creates others with broader scope. Smith should weigh competing freedoms, not ignore half the competitors.
At no time have I ever said, "Hey, if McCain-Feingold screws up elections even more, great. It'll convince people we need to have public financing," the quote attributed to me in Michael Lynch's interview. The fraudulent quotation, paraphrased from an out-of-context quote that appeared in a story on National Review Online, suggests that I am cynically supporting McCain-Feingold because I believe it will make our campaign finance system even worse than it is now, leaving nothing but public financing as a reasonable solution. Even the original quote says nothing of the sort.
I do believe that a public financing program for federal elections would best serve our fundamental democratic values. But I also believe that the provisions in the McCain-Feingold bill eliminating soft money and regulating sham issue ads will represent huge improvements in the current campaign finance system. I don't believe there is any credible evidence that the bill will hobble the political parties or leave candidates powerless to respond to interest groups, and I would not support the bill if I did.
Brennan Center for Justice
New York University School of Law
Michael W. Lynch replies: My apologies to Ms. Goldberg, who feels Mr. Smith's interpretation of her quote was unfair. The interview does make it clear that Mr. Smith was paraphrasing her original quote. His comment read, "she essentially told National Review Online…." For the record, here's what she actually said: "If candidates are concerned about spending by independent groups, it might make them think more seriously about public financing."
Sentenced to Death
I very much enjoyed Cathy Young's "McVeigh to MacBeth" (July). I am dismayed by rightists who argue for capital punishment, particularly when they're in the "Government as an Instrument for Moral Good" school of thought. The argument that "moral rectitude demands collective action" has been at the core of almost all of the abuses of government power recorded throughout history.
How do death penalty activists rationally justify entitling the collective self to do what we would never permit individuals to do? Except in the very narrow cases of self-defense or defending our borders, we as citizens are forbidden to take up force of any kind against each other, no matter how just our cause. Why is it that if we get together and call it a "legal system," this behavior suddenly is legitimate? It's nothing more than mob rule.
Cathy Young properly takes Paul Cassel to task for his insistence that the exoneration of innocents on death row proved that "the system worked." The resources currently devoted to investigating and exposing cases of innocent people on death rows around the country are extremely limited, so it's rare that anyone tries to prove the innocence of people who have already been executed -- such an investigation won't directly save lives. But investigations of the executed might give us one thing: the grisly footnote to prove to death penalty apologists how well the system might not have worked in the past.
Cathy Young's article missed the point completely. Revenge is in no way a moral action. The only moral justification for capital punishment -- or any killing of a human being, for that matter -- is self-defense. And when someone is so dangerous that he will likely be a deadly threat to others in the future, then death may be the moral solution.
I am surprised that Nick Gillespie disregards property rights to suggest that "certain characters and texts have entered the public domain in fact, if not in law" ("Tomorrow Is Another Day in Court," July).
We know when and by whom Gone With the Wind was created. Immense popularity and durability does not imply that a work has "entered the public domain in fact, if not in law." If it did, then the entire publishing, recording, and filmmaking industries would not exist. There would be no reason for authors, composers, filmmakers, and the like to create. Absent a method of controlling distribution and earning a livelihood, only amateurs would do this work for their own pleasure.
Capitalist democracies lack the patronage system of aristocratic Europe in the prior two millennia. Instead, the market supports those who produce works of intellectual and artistic value. If artists don't have the constitutional guarantee that their property can, like a house, be freely sold or licensed and passed from one generation to another, they will not be able to afford to create works of art.
As a composer, I take great solace in the fact that my property rights are protected by the law. Please contemplate this issue before defending a self-styled "parodist" who appears to be a plagiarist by any reasonable measure. We are all diminished when property rights are diluted, "re-imaginings" of bygone eras aside. Let Alice Randall create her own "characters and texts" about the slavery and reconstruction eras, if she wants to "explode myths." Or let her wait until 2036.
New York, NY
In discussing The Wind Done Gone, Nick Gillespie should ask more aggressively what right, under the Constitution, does a court have to block a derivative work 63 years after the original was published?
The correct answer should be, "None!" The copyright exception to the First Amendment (Article I, Section 8, clause 8) is only for a "limited" period and only to the extent that it "promotes" the arts. Congress acted unconstitutionally when it removed a limited term from copyright (56 years), replacing it with the indefinite life-plus-50-years (extended just recently to life-plus-70-years). There is no reason whatsoever to believe this extension promotes the arts; a potential artist who does not feel sufficiently motivated by the prospect of 56 years of royalties is not going to be lured by an even more conjectural payoff 50 years after his death. Instead, this unreasonable extension of copyright suppresses the arts, by forcing books like Ms. Randall's into expensive court battles.
Hugo S. Cunningham
Nick Gillespie replies: As Hugo Cunningham points out, intellectual property rights, unlike other property rights, involve arbitrarily set time limits designed to give creators and inventors an incentive to produce work. So Jeffrey Hoffman is wrong to assert that intellectual property can, "like a house," be passed on indefinitely. I also think he is mistaken that, absent copyright in its current form, artistic production would stop. In any case, as most readers know, a higher court allowed Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone to be sold in bookstores, to no apparent injury to Margaret Mitchell's literary estate.