All Commentary
Wednesday, August 1, 1990

Perspective: Is the Post Office Efficient?

Whether or not mail should cost more to deliver depends on whether there are cheaper or better ways to deliver it. That’s not something to be settled by talk because both sides can argue forever. The way to find out if the job can be done cheaper and better is to let other people try.

We have already found out from experience that the United Parcel Service can deliver packages better than the post office. A number of private overnight delivery companies are thriving in competition with the post office. In neither of these cases do we have to waste our time listening to rhetoric or looking at statistics to make a decision. Each of us can make his own decisions as to how we want to send packages or overnight mail.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the basic mall services—the letters and postcards—we are forbidden by law from having a choice. Even when you buy your own mail box, the federal government forbids anybody except the post office from putting anything in it.

It is only because the Postal Service is a legal monopoly that decisions about it have to be made through a process of political hot air instead of a process of competition in the marketplace.

—Thomas Sowell

writing in the March 16, 1990,

Houston Chronicle

Social Security

In contrast to nurtured common misconception, Social Security is not a program of personally funded pensions. It is not a process of individuals accumulating their own retirement accounts.

Rather than a saving process of building retirement funds, the operation is inevitably consume-as-you- produce for the community as a whole and pay-as-you-go in financing retirement benefits. Indeed, since Social Security tax payments now are much greater than benefits dispersed, it is a pay-more-than-you-go scheme. Today’s workers are not accumulating money which will be returned to them years later; instead, today’s workers are paying taxes to finance benefits for today’s retirees—and to finance other government spending, as well . . . .

No bookkeeping “trust fund” accumulated today will take care of tomorrow’s retirees. The community and its government will have to provide and pay for tomorrow’s benefits out of tomorrow’s production and income.

—William R. Allen

The Midnight Economist

Drugs, Values, and Self-Control

The popular notion of drug addiction to such hard drugs as heroin and cocaine says that those who take such drugs will inevitably increase their intake until they reach a point where the craving for the drug high and the fear of withdrawal causes them to lose control. The loss of control is evidenced by the willingness to sacrifice all—to the point of self-destruction—to ingest the drug. This popular belief in addiction is buttressed by animal research that allegedly shows that monkeys will press a lever to get more cocaine until they kill themselves. The monkeys cannot help themselves because the addictive power of cocaine is so great.

Critics dispute the “monkey model” of addiction. Other research suggests that animals will not choose drugs when they have a choice and when studied in a natural environment. Furthermore, the view that addiction is the automatic result of a biological process is contradicted by millions of “controlled” users of such drugs as alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, and even cocaine and heroin. The controlled users regulate their intake of drugs because their serf-image, value system, and serf-discipline keep them from descending to the “depths of addiction” as it is commonly perceived. The controlled users simply decide to limit their intake of drugs.

Thousands of American soldiers in Vietnam became “addicted” to hard drugs, but only 14 percent remained “addicted” upon their return to the United States. The 86 percent who quit simply decided that they did not want to get involved in the American drug culture. Their value system and self-discipline helped them to “Say No.”

Don’t misunderstand me. I do not favor experimentation with drugs. I do not use drugs, and I do not approve of or associate with those who use drugs. But the focus on the overpowering and addictive nature of drugs has led us toignore the issues of values and self-discipline.

It seems to me that the worst thing we can do is tell those who are greatly tempted to continue the use of drugs that they will reach a point where they will lose control and can’t help themselves. That message erodes their effort toward self-control. Those who study the psychology of control tell us that a belief in the ability to control is needed to ensure maximum effort toward self-control. The message that one has lost control may contribute to “learned helplessness” and greatly erode the ability to exercise self-control.

—William Lee Wilbanks

Professor of Criminal Justice

Florida International University

Developing a Market Economy in Eastern Europe

A market economy must be built from the market up—from the very arena in which the day-to-day decisions of buyers and sellers methodically and objectively allocate the available resources to the most efficient producers. To assume that a market economy can be dropped into place by the orders and edicts of central planning agencies is to make mockery of the term “free market.”

A free market is built on the foundation of voluntary exchange between economic actors. There is nothing at all voluntary about government edicts. A government, especially a government still committed to socialist principles, cannot legislate a market economy into being. One might just as well claim that a few adjustments on a worn-out engine will fill the tank with gasoline. It’s the gas that fuels the engine, not the other way around! Likewise, it’s the commitment to free markets that dictates the principles of government that will be exhibited in any society.

A free market can be based only on the foundation of individual liberty, which includes the freedom to own property. Belief in the ability of government to “create” free markets by legislative fiat belies a lingering faith in the efficiency of socialism—whatever form it may take. And if there is one lesson to be learned in Eastern Europe, it is that socialist economies are unworthy of such a faith.

—John S. Viehweg

Mesa, Arizona

  • Thomas Sowell is the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.