Letters from our readers.
May 2 1997 3:30 AM

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Net Worth

I disagree with Bill Barnes' conclusions in "Search Me." The Web is a researcher's dream, enabling quick and fairly easy access to a wealth of information. An individual doing research on the Web quickly learns to acquire the proper tools for the job and, with a little imagination, can find almost anything. I use a utility that initiates searches on many search engines simultaneously and rarely fails to locate what I'm after. Also, even when a little "search refinement" needs to be done, it is much more time efficient than going to a library, searching there, and then bringing the information home. Most importantly, the Web is not just about information. It is about communication. Through e-mail, one can interrogate experts and seek out better information.

--Steve J. Thornburg

The Knot


David Boaz's "Privatize Marriage" adds more confusion to a muddled debate. We need clarification.

Marriage is already a private contract, and nothing keeps people from making their own very special stipulations as part of a marriage contract. But the nation-state currently functions as the enforcer of contracts, making certain rules and formalities a practical necessity. In the absence of common rules and enforcement, people would have to resolve conflicts on their own, which can become messy and chaotic.

Also, the marriage contract includes provision of certain social services between two individuals, the absence of which would result in excessive burdens on society. Nothing should keep two or more people from signing cohabitation contracts committing to certain mutual obligations, but whether and to what extent community privileges should be extended to such unions is another matter.

--Paul Kailor


An Institution by Any Other Name ...

"Privatize Marriage" by David Boaz disregards the importance of semantics. Gays "demand" recognition and respect. Fair enough. But they would get farther in their agendas if they would give a little respect to conventional marriage by letting heterosexual people keep the word marriage to themselves. Gays should come up with a word for their own committed relationships. Then, they would attract more support for gaining recognition for the same kinds of legalities that help married people.

--Richard Polese

Voluntary Spending


In "Trumpet Voluntary," Michael Kinsley misses something essential when he argues that potential volunteers, and in particular well-off ones, might do better to donate their money than to actually volunteer. Someone who donates their time becomes more, not less, likely to give money on top of that.

Also, increasing volunteerism has goals other than encouraging more financial support. Our society is divided by class. It is possible, by choosing the right suburb, for middle- to upper-middle-class people to live their lives in very little contact with the most severe problems of this country. If these people were more directly involved, they would undoubtedly feel more connected to the problems around them. The effect is both monetary, in that it encourages donations, and political, in that it changes and challenges the indifference to the poor that seems so painfully common on the American political stage.

--Yaron Minsky

Blanking Out


Since I was looking forward to Slate's coverage of what is sure to be one of the year's most intelligent movies, I found Sarah Kerr's review of Grosse Pointe Blank, titled "Dear John," doubly disappointing. Her belabored references to '80s teen movies serve no purpose, save to further showcase what seems to be Kerr's suppressed "thinking girl's" crush on John Cusack. Her actual criticisms of the film were buried in a pointless parade of her insider knowledge of the scene behind the movie--far worse than John Cusack's emphasis on Evanston in interviews.

She whines that it wasn't "developed." But the symbolism of Martin's profession was clear, and the ideas were consistent. Without having read any interviews or reviews, I immediately grasped the film's stance on American life. It gave a funny, precise critique, without being bitter. And the movie did not exclude those of us who did not know the real-life characters behind it. On the contrary, for those of us who grew up in the '80s, it spoke with a fresh, real perspective that's distressingly rare. Kerr's review, on the other hand, was annoyingly insular and bitter.

--Michelle Chihara

A Flat Tax on Net Worth

The "Dialogue" on the capital-gains tax between Michael Kinsley and John C. Goodman points out one of the problems in taxing income: It's hard to make it simple and fair. That's why Goodman likes the simplicity of the flat tax on income. But that isn't fair either. There is a growing disparity between rich and poor, but what an individual earns in any given year may not indicate true wealth.

In place of the income tax, a flat tax on net worth should be considered. First, net worth is easy to define: assets (such as cash, real estate, and securities) minus liabilities (or debts) equals net worth. The Internal Revenue Service would be turned into an agency whose mission would be simplified: determining the existence and value of assets. While that is no easy task, we ought not forget that the IRS currently performs this very function in administering the estate and gift tax.

An important feature of a flat tax on net worth is that the tax rate would be considerably lower than that advertised by Rep. Dick Armey. That is so even if the goal is to collect the same amount of money that the federal government now takes in from the individual income tax--$588 billion. But the single most compelling argument for the imposition of a flat tax on net worth is this: 24 percent of all households wouldn't pay any tax at all.

The major arguments against the imposition of a wealth tax will be by those who argue that it will inhibit savings and result in capital flight. But the experiences of other nations such as Switzerland suggest that this is not true. The richest will pay much more in taxes, but most of the rest of us will pay less. Some will pay nothing at all. That's as it should be.

--Roy Ulrich

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