Letters from our readers.
Nov. 7 1996 3:30 AM

Abuse Redux


I agree with the overarching point of Douglas J. Besharov and Jacob W. Dembosky's article, "Child Abuse: Threat or Menace?" I am sorry that they were not given more space to flesh out the details and evidence that support their position. I do believe that the administration has used the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-3) for purely political purposes--to demonize welfare reform and draw attention away from the fact that it (the administration) has no plan to rectify the crisis that afflicts the child-welfare system.

Community professionals now see more abuse and neglect because they are trained to see more. Clearly, child-welfare professionals want--and need--to point to bigger numbers in order to bid for what they perceive to be diminished resources. However, there are survey data (that Deborah Daro and I collect) and data on homicide that indicate strongly that it is very unlikely that there is any kind of major increase in the rate of child maltreatment in the country.

As to whether an effort should be mounted to get a better analysis of the report--well, the social scientist in me always wants more honest data analysis. On the other hand, many social scientists, myself included, find the NIS studies of such limited value that we rarely use the data or even reference the studies beyond a cursory mention that they have been conducted.

On balance, though, I think that as the administration is going to fall back on NIS-3 to support anything they plan to do--and to block programs they don't want--it is wise to push for a more honest accounting of the study.


--Richard J. Gellesdirector, University of Rhode Island Family Violence Research ProgramKingston, R.I.

The Seattle Commune

I was stunned to read "Kiss My Tan Line," Robert Ferrigno's insulting article about the migration of Californians to Seattle.

I hate to break it to Ferrigno, but Seattle's renaissance is not attributable to an influx of aggressive capitalists. Seattle has had--and continues to have--a high quality of life; its popularity has very little to do with economics, and a lot to do with people and the surrounding environment--the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Here, you can watch the sun's orange light reflect off snowcapped Mount Rainier, or walk past trees that have been around for thousands of years. It is the threat that all this will be destroyed by commercialism one day that worries the citizenry. Californians (and others) emigrated to move away from image and toward substance. In the end, when you walk through Pike Place Market, there are no McDonald's, just local businesses.


Since my time is much too valuable to waste (I've got a little kayaking to do), I have a request for the editors of Slate. I read Slate because the articles are stimulating. Ferrigno's article was crap. It lacked intelligence, introspection, and humor--it was crass, worthy of Cosmopolitan or Star. I do have a sense of humor, but can only appreciate a joke when it starts with a grain of truth.

--Angel Cruz

Eat My Flannel

Well, it appears that Robert Ferrigno (see "Kiss My Tan Line") has done well at touting the Californian presence here in Seattle. But, if he had bothered to read any history books, he'd have discovered that a new set of entrepreneurs was born out of the massive Boeing layoffs of 1970, when tens of thousands of unemployed Boeing workers were trying their hands at anything to make a buck.


If he'd like to assert that Californians are responsible for the growth of Seattle, then Ferrigno had also better take responsibility for the lack of growth-planning, the Eastside sprawl (the Los Angelesifcation of the Puget Sound), and the lack of transportation vision--all of which envelop the region. Maybe that's why this lifelong Seattle resident has decided to move to Alaska.

Ferrigno has written the most pompous bunch of BS that I've read in a long time.

--Paul Brownlow

Grade Deflation


I was surprised and saddened to see David M. Mastio's article, "Give This Subsidy a D-," appear in Slate. While I understand and support the publishing of "controversial" opinions, his take on student loans was naive, at best.

First, although having a child makes one eligible for a student loan, no prospective college student is dumb enough to think that the money from a loan would even approach the costs of raising a child. This eligibility requirement does not encourage student-parents, but provides those who already have children an opportunity to escape the life of poverty that most teen-age mothers experience.

Second, the author takes issue with the regulation that stipulates automatic eligibility for a student loan after age 23 regardless of parental financial status. I agree that this eligibility factor is a bad one, but for entirely different reasons. Where the author suggests that parental financial status be offered as grounds to deny loans to those over 23, I feel that the exact opposite should be done. When children reach the age of 18, their parents should no longer be obliged to support them financially. At 18, a person becomes an independent individual in the eyes of the law, and parents should have the right to decide whether or not they will continue to support their child.

The author's fears of abuse seem pretty far-fetched--these are loans, not gifts, and will be paid back. While default rates for student loans are high, these defaulters are not the children of rich parents trying to milk the system Would you choose to pay interest on money you already have?

Additionally, to suggest that a student who is in need of a loan should not be allowed to attend Harvard because state schools are cheaper is disgustingly elitist. After all, we are talking about loans that will be paid back. While Harvard may cost a fair deal more than a local community college, the Harvard grad leaves with an education that almost guarantees him or her a job that will equip him or her to both pay off the loan and pay more in taxes.

The author, while making a somewhat convincing argument to those unfamiliar with the realities of today's colleges, clearly has had little real-world experience with student loans. His fears make sense in the world of words, but they are not justified by the reality young adults face today.

--Greg Kahn

The Dismal Ideologue

On Paul Krugman's "Economic Culture Wars": I'm sorry, Paul (if I may be so bold with an old college roommate of mine who's now famous), but this article is a bunch of nonsense.

To Krugman, the difference between the two sets of "liberals" (people like Krugman himself, vs. Kuttner, Reich, etc.) is that the latter are literary, and the former, mathematical. In the interests of simplicity, I will call Krugman's school "mainstream-neoclassical," and Kuttner, etc., the "liberal reformers."

I'm not on either of the two competing teams. But on this issue, I would side with the group that Krugman trashes: I've never seem them use fancy lit-crit-shit words and literary "Big Names," except casually. There are economists who get into that kind of postmodernism (such as Deidre and Donald McCloskey--and some Marxists), but they do not include James Galbraith, Robert Kuttner, Robert Reich, Laura Tyson, etc., the targets of Krugman's imperious ire.

Krugman seems to cast himself as a white blood corpuscle defending the body of economics against the invading pathogens of the liberal reformers.

This kind of establishmentarian guarding of the gates actually goes against the scientific pretensions of economics--and its progress as a field. To see this, we have to first note that Galbraith made a mistake to choose lit crit as a model for economics.

Instead of lit crit, I would point to very difficult fields in academia: sociology, political science, psychology, and anthropology. They are difficult, since they deal with difficult subjects: the complex interactions amongst those ornery creatures called "people." That they cannot simply "assume away" the complications (as economists usually do) makes these subjects inherently more difficult than physics.

Krugman's dogmatism shuts out critical thinking, preventing adaptation to new eras and events. Of course, economics can easily fail as a science while surviving or prospering as an ideology. Enforced homogeneity of thought--including allegiance to mathematics über alles--fits perfectly with the vision of economics as an ideology.

As a final word on the liberal reformers vs. the mainstream-neoclassicals: The former always cite an important historical precedent, still relevant today. Back in the 1930s, the main school in economics was one (very similar to today's toadies for the I.M.F. and World Bank) that used impeccable deductive logic to show that mass unemployment was impossible, or temporary, or unimportant. But along came an economist who used a somewhat vague, literary, empiricist style to propose an alternative vision. This was John Maynard Keynes. If Krugman has his way, the Keyneses of the future will be rejected as being outside the pale of legitimate economics, beneath contempt.

--James Devine professor of economicsLoyola Marymount University