All Commentary
Tuesday, September 1, 1992

Power and Accountability

I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it . . . . For many years my view of Catholic controversy has been governed by the following chain of reasoning: 1. A crime does not become a good deed by being committed for the good of a church. 2. The theorist who approves the act is no better than the culprit who commits it. 3. The divine or historian who defends the theorist incurs the same blame. 4. To commit murder is the mark of a moment, exceptional. To defend it is constant, and shows a more perverted conscience.

—Lord Acton

A Fundamental Inconsistency

There is a fundamental inconsistency between farm price support programs that raise product prices and food-assistance programs. Price support programs raise prices of milk, fresh fruit, sugar, peanuts, and other products at the same time low-income consumers are deemed to have too little money to provide food. Domestic consumers are legally prevented from purchasing lower-priced dairy products, for example, by import restrictions which are a necessary component of price support programs that hold domestic prices above world prices. In addition to administering the dairy program, which raises fluid milk prices, for example, the USDA has prevented reconstituted milk from being sold for less than the price of whole fluid milk. In marketing orders for fruits, lower-income consumers are harmed most by quality control provisions that restrict sales of lower grades and smaller sizes of commodities. It is ironic that billions of dollars are being spent on government programs to raise prices of milk and other commodities while, at the same time, billions of dollars are also being spent on programs to lower the price of food to low-income consumers.

—E. C. Pasour, Jr.

Agriculture and the State

Food Shopping in Russia

Just to obtain milk, for example, Anna, a factory worker and housewife, must take public transportation, time-consuming in itself, from store to store, using her experience to guide her to shops that have received deliveries of milk in the past. A few kopecks here and a ruble placed in strategic hands there will give her tips that she could never have found on her own. One salesclerk tells her about an afternoon milk delivery scheduled for a store on the other side of the city and, made especially garrulous by an extra few kopecks, the clerk advises her how many kopecks she will need to bribe another salesclerk to receive a few liters. Anna immediately rushes to the other store to bribe the clerk before the delivery. Because she is far from the factory where she works, she decides to scour the nearby stores for bread and cabbages while she is there. She keeps an eye out for the milk truck the entire time. Anna manages to get another tip in much the same way about an upcoming shipment of cabbages across town. With that valuable information in hand, she feels the day was productive, although the milk delivery arrived three hours late, precluding her return to work. Once in possession of the valuable liters of milk, Anna carefully arranges them in her shopping bag and presses the bag close to her body to try to prevent the milk from freezing in the subzero temperatures during her long ride home.

—Paul Craig Roberts and Karen Lafollette

Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy

Legal Discrimination

As currently engaged in, race-norming tests, and gender- and race-based preferences and quotas have two incontrovertible characteristics. The first is they discriminate against white males in favor of ethnically identifiable minorities, and in favor of white females who have had themselves legislatively declared a disadvantaged class—supposedly victims of white male oppression. Second, they are premised on the proposition that their beneficiaries are intellectually inferior to white males, or are otherwise unqualified to succeed on their own merit. The use of race- or gender-based tests, preferences, and quotas constitutes discrimination—discrimination directed solely at white males. These practices are wrong, they are unconstitutional, and they should be abolished. No group should be more aware of this fact than we African-Americans.

—W. James Ellison, writing in The Birmingham News

Your Papers, Please . . .

My little sister, a high school senior, recently put together her college applications. Everything looked fine: good grades, camp counselor, band, cheerleader. All the evidence of a fine young person who can both contribute to and gain from higher education.

But that’s not all the evidence that went into her state scholarship applications. My sister had just documented that she is 1/32 American Indian. This made her eligible for minority-only state scholarships.

What other societies have required racial documentation for participation in government programs? The Soviet Union issued identification cards that classified the carriers as “Russian,” or “Georgian,” or “Jewish,” regardless of where they lived at the time. And, of course, the Nazis required proof of “pure Aryan blood.”

In a lighter mood, I might suggest that genealogy will be a growth industry. However, happy as I am that my sister is college bound, I’m concerned. Will the accomplishment mean as much to her if she is left wondering whether she could have made it without this advantage? And as much as her internal well-being, I’m worried about her growing up in a world where one has to document one’s racial heritage.

—Erik P. Wingren

Seattle, Washington