Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 28 1998 3:30 AM

Dear Readers,

Prudence is greatly pleased at the confidence so many of you have shown in her by asking her advice. Sadly she must, however, return to her needlework now.

In leaving, Prudence would like to offer this last piece of advice:

Except in a very few instances, Prudence is neither better informed nor wiser than the persons who write to her. She is able to offer helpful advice only because the problems described are not hers; she is not emotionally involved in them and can consider them objectively. So her advice has two parts: First, when you are greatly troubled with a problem you should write it down in the form of a letter--which you may, if you wish, address to Prudence. The act of translating the problem into written words, rather than brooding over it endlessly and incoherently, will itself be helpful. It will enable you to see the problem in its true dimensions. Second, you should not mail the letter but should read it over to yourself and imagine what Prudence would say. You will find--not always, but often--that you know the answer. As Prudence read the letters she received, she often felt that the writer knew the answer but only wanted some confirmation. Try it seriously for yourself.

--Prudence, fondly bidding you farewell

Dear Prudence,

How should I respond to a (relatively) good friend who ridicules my Libertarian attitudes? Or to other people who are misinformed about the Libertarian Party?

I don't bring it up, my friend does. I try to change the subject, as I am tired of defending my political views to him and to other people. Many people don't understand Libertarian philosophies, nor do they seem to want to. And, when people do want to talk about it, they erroneously link Lyndon LaRouche with the Libertarian Party (he's a registered Democrat, for God's sake!) or just reject out of hand the Libertarian Party's principles.

Any suggestions?

--Dan the Man

Dear Dan the Man,

This is a common problem. You have no obligation to participate in a discussion that you find fruitless and irritating. Your friend cannot be a very good friend if he persists on this subject despite your obviously unhappy reaction. Also, you have no obligation to the Libertarian Party to fight on every street corner in its defense.

You should tell your friend candidly that you do not want to discuss this subject. If he persists, or takes offense, you should find a more congenial friend. There are people who are not members of the Libertarian Party but who are open-minded about it and willing to listen, even though you may not be able to convert them. If you are receptive to the ideas of other people about politics and policy, you will find some people receptive to yours.

--Prudence, open-mindedly

Dear Prudence,

Is a gratuity appropriate when dining at a restaurant buffet? On the one hand, since the server is not taking and filling meal orders, a tip seems unnecessary. Yet on the other hand, the server is not less likely to be underpaid merely because the restaurant offers a buffet, and so a tip may still be expected. And if the restaurant offers menus in addition to its buffet, then the diners are occupying a table that might otherwise be filled by customers who order from the menu, who would presumably tip normally.

If the server brings drinks, should one tip based on the cost of the drinks? What if the server brings only water?

--Gratuitously Challenged

Dear Gratuitously Challenged,

The pay a waiter gets is adjusted by the market to the probability of getting tips. If a waiter works in conditions where tips are unlikely, he will get a higher wage than if he works where tips are customary, other things being equal. If you go through a buffet line and there is no personal service offered to you except handing dishes over a counter, you are not expected to tip. If you go through a buffet line and the waiter seats you; gives you a drink, even if water; and one waiter is assigned to you, you should give a tip. But the tip need not be as large as it would be if you got full table service.

--Prudence, tipsily

Dear Prudence,

Are you my alter ego?

--Prudence (my real name)

Dear Prudence,

Since I don't know your ego, I don't know whether I am your alter ego. Anyway, the world has more Prudences than it has prudence.

--Prudence, gladly

Dear Prudence,

You probably will think this is from a Democratic nut, but it is a serious question. Why does a responsible political party have a goal of reducing taxes on the rich? It seems only logical that those with high incomes should pay more than those with lower incomes! A concern that most rational people should have is how to equitably distribute the great wealth of this country. Taxation of the wealthy and assistance to the less fortunate is one simple way. Also money is needed for many, many good purposes! What is the Republican Party's rebuttal to this?

--Jon Parkinson

Dear Jon,

Prudence cannot speak for the Republican Party (who can?), but she can give you some thoughts on the matter.

There are probably some exceptions, but in general rich people do pay more taxes than poor people. Generally Republicans agree that rich people should pay more taxes than poor people. The issue that divides people and parties is how much more the rich should pay.

If A has twice as much income as B, should A pay twice as much tax, or three times as much, or four times as much? That is partly a question of fairness, to which simply saying that the rich should pay more provides no answer. It is also a question of economic efficiency. Beyond some point, taxation of the rich probably reduces incentives to save, invest, innovate, and work, to a degree that is harmful to people who are not rich. But just where that point is no one seems to know.

Why do Republicans generally answer these questions in the direction of lower taxes on the rich more than Democrats generally do? That is one of the main reasons they are Republicans.

Your question also raises the issue of attitudes toward taxation in general. Since Reagan's victory in 1980, many Republicans have come to believe that offering a tax cut for everyone is the sure road to electoral success. That idea now seems to be shared by many Democrats, although it did not seem to work in 1996.

--Prudence, taxonomically

Dear Prudence,

A few years ago I dated a guy, but he moved and it was hard to keep together, so we broke up. About four months later, he died in a fire. Problem is, his younger brother also liked me. A few days ago I saw him for the first time since his brother died, and he still likes me. I kind of like him now, too; he's grown up a lot since the last time I saw him. I just don't know if it would be rude to his brother's memory to date him. I'd appreciate any input.

--Needs Help in Missouri

Dear Needs Help,

You have no problem. Four months would be long enough to mourn this man even if you had been married to him, which you weren't. Preserving and honoring the memory of a deceased loved one does not require you to give up ordinary activities. There is room in the human heart for remembering the dead and living with the living. If you were deeply attached to the older brother, or now think you were, you will not forget him. Your present attraction to the younger brother may be a sign of your appreciation of the characteristics of the older brother, many of which the younger one may share.

--Prudence, consolingly