'You Can't See Why on an fMRI'
I read Brian Doherty's "?'You Can't See Why on an fMRI'?" (July) with a great deal of interest and found that it closely mirrored my own thoughts on the subject. As a practicing physician and physicist with some experience in medical psychiatry, I would take the argument one step further: I do not understand how on May 30, 2007, it can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that someone was "crazy" at 10 a.m. on January 31, 2007. Since psychiatrists believe that patients can move into and out of insanity (which is why mental institutions both admit and discharge patients) it seems to me that despite a person's actions and personal testimony about his/her thoughts, the precise state of mind can never be determined retroactively. The separate question of whether human beings really have free will is immaterial, because a system of justice cannot operate without the universal assumption (and legal fiction) that we are all responsible for our actions.
Robin O. Motz
Department of Medicine
Brian Doherty's efforts to characterize the relationship between psychiatrists and the legal profession miss the mark. My only "promise" to the legal system as a psychiatrist is to explain what is known about pathological conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and to what degree these conditions can interfere with an individual's rational construction of the world. Brain diseases'"including such heterogeneous conditions as schizophrenia, brain tumors, and dementia'"can compromise rational and agential capacities to varying degrees, depending on the illness and the individual. From a neuropsychiatric perspective, the binary notion that one either does or does not possess mens rea is nonsensical.
Indeed, mens rea is a legal and philosophical, not a neuropsychiatric, concept. In cases such as that of Andrea Yates, it is up to judges, juries, and philosophers to decide whether'"and to what degree'"compromised brain function has undermined "free will" or moral culpability.
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
Tufts University School of Medicine
The Minority Leader
Diogenes' famed search for an honest politician would have ended after reading David Weigel's "The Minority Leader" (July), in which he asks the question, "Is Sen. Tom Coburn an extreme social conservative, a libertarian hero, or both?" I would trade in either of our New York senators, Hillary Clinton or Chuck Schumer, for Coburn any day. Clinton and Schumer have terrible voting records on both economic and civil liberties issues. At least with Coburn, I'll have someone trying to keep Uncle Sam from picking my pocket for more and more money. A glass half full is better than one totally empty.
Great Neck, NY
I chuckled at Katherine Mangu-Ward's remark ("Claiming Paine," July) that Ronald Reagan had relied on the radical Paine in his 1980 acceptance speech: "[Tom Paine] wrote, during the darkest days of the American Revolution, that 'we have it in our power to begin the world over again.'?" For years Reagan had used this quote, placing it "in the darkest days of Valley Forge." It fell to me, one of his speechwriters, to explain to him that Paine wrote this line in December 1776, in Common Sense, a full year before any American soldier set foot in Valley Forge. Reluctantly he began to use the accurate reference but remarked wistfully, "Well, maybe Paine said it again when the troops were at Valley Forge."
Leftists for Hayek
Steven Horwitz's review of Theodore A. Burczak's Socialism After Hayek is unwarrantedly generous to the author ("Leftists for Hayek," July). Burczak appears to have missed the last 20 years of F.A. Hayek's life, during which he described in great detail why the market system can function at its higher levels of efficiency only within the framework of a government with precisely defined powers that are extremely limited. Market productivity and efficiency are greatly mitigated by a government with what Hayek described as the power to "dispose special favors on some while imposing special duties on others."
To institute Burczak's proposed programs, a government would require extensive powers of market intervention and property usurpation. We would have an even more pervasively manipulated society than that which generally exists in modern industrial states, where the political parties fight to transfer resources and privileges to favored groups in order to create a voting majority dependent on government largesse. Essentially, Burczak's respect for Hayek is a typical progressive's reluctant acknowledgement of the empirical reality that socialism produces subsistence-level economic activity and that significant market activity is required to produce the wealth that the progressives can expropriate to engage in their pet social engineering projects.
The enormous extent of Burczak's failure to understand the market is revealed by his worker-owned firm proposal. To initiate this policy in the United States would require the greatest seizure of wealth in human history, not to mention the foreign affairs difficulties resulting from transferring foreign citizens' ownership of U.S. stocks to the employees of those companies. Implementing the policy would transfer the decision-making power of the firms from the market-selected owners and their appointed managers to all employees equally, though the vast majority of employees' special skills would lie in areas other than corporate management.
Surprisingly, Horwitz states that labor-managed firms could be successful "by focusing on the better communication of knowledge that might come from a more decentralized internal structure." Ludwig von Mises certainly would have shaken his head upon hearing that statement. The market decentralization in a firm is the result of the specialization of labor. Engineers, creative advertising experts, custodians, file clerks, accountants, salesmen, etc. are performing functions based on their specialized knowledge and skills without having their activities specifically dictated from central management. Corporate upper managers do have their own area of specialized knowledge and expertise. Their success in the market system has caused them to be chosen as the individuals who can best make the important decisions regarding major policies and plans. To overrule the market by having major corporate decisions left up to a vote of all employees can be called decentralization, but it is certainly not market-based decentralization.