Letters from our readers.
Sept. 12 1997 3:30 AM

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Regarding "The Conintern," by Jacob Weisberg: Now that Michael Kelly has been forced out of the NewRepublic for his unflattering coverage of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, may we expect an article from Weisberg on the sinister intellectual conformity of the left?

--Danielle CrittendenWomen's QuarterlyWashington

Jacob Weisberg responds: I don't think so. There is PC on the left, no doubt, but this episode is hardly an illustration of it. The idea that a writer who despised Ronald Reagan would have been made editor of a leading conservative magazine is unimaginable. The Michael Kelly of the right wouldn't have had to be fired. He never would have been hired in the first place.


Tax Americana

You waste everyone's time by running pieces by Jodie T. Allen on the economy, taxes, and the stock market. In "A Brief History of Taxes," the chart she runs with her diatribe against supply-side economics is worthless, as even Paul Krugman would advise, because it accounts for neither the efficiency of the market in discounting changes in tax law throughout the legislative process, nor the volatility of monetary policy during the last 30 years of a floating dollar. There are other minor variables at work, including differences that occur because of taxes on income and taxes on wealth, but I would not trouble Allen with those. Her attempt to correlate one variable--the date of passage of a tax cut or increase--with GDP is not serious stuff. And, by the way, at the time it passed in 1993, we told our clients the Clinton tax increase would do no great damage to the economy because the other variables were positive.

--Jude WanniskiPolyconomics Inc.Morristown, N.J.

Tax Return


Jodie T. Allen's "A Brief History of Taxes" was indeed brief, though perhaps appropriately so, given the very narrow focus of her argument. What Allen utterly failed to address is the fact that regardless of their effects on aggregate consumption and investment, tax hikes are bad--and tax cuts, good--for individual taxpayers. While it is quite true, as she notes, that Republicans adhere to the questionable belief "that tax cuts are ipso facto good (and tax hikes are ipso facto bad)" for the economy and the financial markets, those same Republicans also tend to believe that wealth is inherently the property of the individual who created it.

This is not a subtle point, and it is certainly not one that Republicans have ever been shy about expressing. Bob Dole ran his entire '96 presidential race promising a 15-percent income tax cut. The accompanying "It's your money" slogan, while unconvincing to both voters and pundits, is fundamentally true. It is also essential to consider it when weighing the merits or ills of a proposed change in tax rates. Individuals' claims to their wealth and income must of course be balanced by the need to finance governmental activities, no matter how few and inconsequential they may be. For that reason, arguments for the complete elimination of taxes would be absurd, a fact that almost everyone, regardless of political affiliation, can recognize. Equally lacking in wisdom, however, are analyses such as Allen's, which only evaluate taxes' macroeconomic consequences while ignoring completely the effects they have on individuals.

--Brian BissonetteAlexandria, Va.

The Sunbeam King


In his article "Al Dunlap: The Chainsaw Capitalist," David Plotz reveals his ignorance like a hospital gown reveals one's bum. Consider this quote: "The AMA pitches itself as America's selfless medical counselor, indifferent to the demands of the marketplace."

Regardless of the statement's validity, it shows that Plotz hasn't the faintest idea of what the marketplace is. The marketplace is me, and you, and everyone else who wants medical care. How can ignoring people's medical wishes be considered a good thing? "Selfless"? It would be the very height of selfishness and arrogance for the AMA to ignore the marketplace.

In his next sentence, Plotz says, "Dunlap, by contrast, is the marketplace." No. He can be at most oneactor in the marketplace. Plotz then goes on to denigrate the notion of efficiency, as if it were self-evidently bad rather than inarguably good. Plotz also misuses the concept of the invisible hand, using it to mean something quite apart from what Adam Smith intended.

Plotz tries to vilify Dunlap, but anyone who understands economics sees that Dunlap is actually a good guy, increasing the efficiency of businesses and creating wealth. About the 11,000 workers fired from Scott Paper, Plotz does the usual hand-wringing because he has not learned to view the big picture: A society that can meet its tissue needs with 11,000 fewer people is more efficient; it is a society that has 11,000 people who can now do something more productive. There are only so many hands in the world to work, and--viewing things in strictly economic terms--those fired workers are a freed resource, freed by Dunlap. (True, their lives are temporarily screwed, but businesses do not exist to hand out paychecks; they exist because they do something useful in an efficient manner. Were it otherwise, we'd be knee-deep in unwanted buggy whips.)


If Slate printed an article dealing with principles and terms from chemistry, you would pass it by a chemist, wouldn't you? Why then do you let someone who has not the barest acquaintance with economics spout nonsense?

--Bill Muse

Doubting Hamas

First and foremost, I would like to commend you on your publication. You will go down in history as one of the first and best attempts to use the Internet to spread intellectual debate and well-written articles on politics and culture. The most impressive facet of your publication has been your ability to rise above other media outlets and provide voices for all political groups and evenhanded coverage of all news events.

Sadly, the Sept. 5 "Today's Papers" decides to editorialize by referring to Hamas members as "scumbags." Aside from becoming part of the event instead of just reporting on it, this reflected a poor style and vocabulary choice. Please don't lower yourselves to tabloid language. You have been an important and upstanding publication, and I would hate to lose you now.

--Patrick J. Holt

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