No, it won’t wash. The government is in there everywhere, adjusting, regulating, fixing, charging, sponsoring, subsidizing, etc.
Dr. A. N. Feldzamen
Why do defenders of capitalism always blithely gloss over the consequences of this system? Clive Crook states that capitalism “creates, or leaves unattended, a host of problems that decent societies must address by other means.” But then he fails to enumerate them, or to admit that, for the most part, even “decent” societies never address them adequately. This is mere lip service. Has anyone ever done a serious study on the economic impact of drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, crime, divorce, pollution, economic disparity, and psychological illness caused by a capitalist society in appraising its efficiency? And what about the less tangible effects of promoting a rampantly consumerist society, which becomes increasingly shrill, greedy, selfish, and superficial as it endlessly pursues free markets and economic growth? The negative impacts of a capitalist society on human development and well-being are incalculable. While communism surely failed, capitalism represents no triumph.
If American culture “radiates suspicion of free enterprise,” as Clive Crook contends, it is largely a result of the fact that Americans have chosen socialism as the organizing principle for educating our young. As Marshall McLuhan put it: “The school system … has no place for the rugged individual. It is, indeed, the homogenizing hopper into which we toss our integral tots for processing.”
Education is a protected monopoly of state and local governments. Instruction naturally favors collective—as opposed to free, individual—enterprise. If Americans fail to appreciate that, as Crook puts it, “what best serves a nation’s interest is competition—it’s why markets work, when they do,” we need look no further than the collectivizing project known as K–12 education. It has made us what we are and explains what we are not.
I enjoyed Benjamin Wittes’s article (“Justice Delayed,” March Atlantic), but he did not address a key issue: What if we simply decide to hold all of our prisoners as irregular combatants for the duration of the “War on Terror,” regardless of whether they go before some form of tribunal? Nations have often held prisoners for the duration of a conflict. Even if this conflict goes on for decades, why should we release them, considering that many of them might return to fighting against the United States?
Oak Park, Ill.
Benjamin Wittes replies:
Mr. Barron is quite correct that holding enemy combatants without trial for the duration of hostilities is the historical norm. Then again, the historical norm is predicated on the notion that countries fight with each other, not with the individual soldiers they capture, and that they eventually negotiate the end of the conflict. Nobody truly believes that America now has no fight individually with Osama bin Laden or Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. Moreover, our war with al-Qaeda may be a permanent state of affairs; certainly a negotiated end is unthinkable. Given all of this, it seems to me untenable to have no predictable and viable means of trying accused war criminals.
In her article on the upcoming Beijing Olympics (“Dangerous Games,” March Atlantic), Jennifer Lind asserts that “Taiwanese leaders may gamble that the 2008 Olympics will provide them with their best chance to declare formal independence from [the People’s Republic of China].” This is the same sort of dire prediction one often hears from Beijing’s state-sanctioned media about the inherent dangers of Taiwan’s representative government, and it omits a number of key facts. For instance, while much has been made about the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s pro-independence stance, President Chen Shui-bian has steadfastly adhered to the “Five No’s” of his 2000 inaugural speech, in which he proclaimed that absent direct PRC aggression, there would be no unilateral moves toward a formal declaration of independence during his term. And he has kept this promise despite a massive buildup in the number of PRC missiles aimed at Taiwan, and Beijing’s unrelenting quest to deny Taiwan any sort of international recognition. It also bears mentioning that according to Taiwanese law, any move toward formal independence or unification must first pass the Legislative Yuan (currently controlled by opposition parties) before being put to a referendum in which over half of Taiwan’s registered voters must take part for the results to be valid. In short, any change in the status quo cannot and will not be made without the consent of the people of Taiwan, a fact that is glossed over in Lind’s article.