All Commentary
Wednesday, April 1, 1992

Toward Jeffersonian Self-Government

My idealistic and distinctly unpragmatic stance toward social policy is to say that local control, the voluntary coming together of neighbors, and responsibility for one’s own life are good things for everyone, not just the middle class, that they are the basis for the pursuit of happiness—that the way to help the underclass live satisfying lives is to make them responsible for their own lives and responsible for the life of their community. I also suggest that the way to tap the assets of the able and the affluent is to pull down the bureaucracies of social service professionals that now shield them from personal responsibility. It does not seem to me far-fetched that, deprived of the ability to pay social service professionals to do it for him, the average American in the late twentieth century would take his own steps, in his own neighborhood and reaching across to poor neighborhoods, to keep his fellow human beings from starving in the street, to keep children from growing up neglected, to keep communities from being ravaged by crime and drugs, it does not even seem far-fetched that these steps would be more effective than the current system in reducing the incidence of discrete problems such as malnutrition, child neglect, and homelessness, even as it was spectacularly more effective in achieving the larger goal of enabling people to live satisfying lives.

This is a radical approach indeed in an age when social democracy along the Western European model seems to be enjoying a global ascendancy. But having spent the last few decades testing the limits of social policy, why not reconsider the potential of a solution that was once as American as apple pie: Jeffersonian self-government?

—Charles Murray, writing in Critical Review


Land of Opportunity

Over the years, thousands of refugees came to this country from Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and Latin America. They were certainly not prototypes of success. In fact, they were often personal failures—they came here with no money, no assets, and no contacts. They usually started out in menial jobs. Yet once in America, they worked hard, got ahead, and their sons and daughters rose to the top of their class at some of America’s best universities. It is a thrilling experience to watch the mechanisms of freedom and opportunity transform the lives of these previous “failures,” and to realize that their success enriches the American culture just as surely as it enriches the American economy.

—Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, writing in the  December 1991 issue of Imprimis


Economic Strikers

Permitting unions and their members to suppress the competition of other workers is not right. Indeed it is both economically and morally vicious—as vicious as it would be to allow white workers to block the access of blacks to employment opportunities, another thing that unions have been known to do . . . .

Freedom is the foundation of morality and the sine qua non of well-being. Preventing employers from offering and workers from accepting jobs abandoned by strikers, often for no good reason at all, makes no socially acceptable sense. It is the kind of thinking that has made America’s unionized industries uncompetitive in world markets, the country’s unemployment rolls grow, and its businessmen invest elsewhere. It doesn’t do union members any good, either. So who benefits?

—Sylvester Petro, writing in the  August 5,1991, Wall Street Journal


Rent Control

Though few people know it, rent control is not one of the original laws of nature. New York City apartments have been subject to control for only 48 years. From Peter Minuit until 1943, tenants and landlords negotiated leases without government interference, except for a spell during and after World War I. Without artificially low rents, people had no incentive to cling to one dwelling; they moved freely, and empty apartments abounded.

—from an editorial in the  August 13, 1991, New York Times


Fair Trade vs. Free Trade

All trade barriers rest upon the moral premise that it is fairer for the U.S. government to effectively force an American citizen to buy from an American company than to allow him to voluntarily make a purchase from a foreign company. U.S. trade policy assumes that the moral difference between an American company and a foreign company is greater than the difference between coercion and voluntary agreement. The choice of fair trade vs. free trade is largely: When is coercion fairer than voluntary agreement?

—James Bovard, The Fair Trade Fraud


“Animal Rights”

Animals should be treated in a humane and ethical manner, but we should not forget that most major advances in human and veterinary medicine would have been nearly impossible without animal testing.

In 1879, Robert Koch demonstrated the relationship between bacteria and disease by studying anthrax in sheep and cattle.

In 1922, Frederick Banting and Charles Best, working with dogs, discovered a method of extracting insulin from the pancreas of an animal to treat humans suffering from diabetes.

In 1954, Jonas Salk used monkeys to develop the polio vaccine.

In 1967, Christiaan Barnard tested heart transplant techniques on dogs and other animals before performing the procedure on humans.

It is unthinkable that such major medical progress could have been thwarted by those who claim that “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” Yet today we stand on the threshold of restricting animal research and, hence, greatly diminishing progress in areas including cancer chemotherapy, hypertension, atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.


—Elizabeth M. Whelan, writing in the September 1991 issue of Private Practice