A 10 Million Square Mile Asylum?

Yet another opportunity for Point-counterpoint.

“Is America Crazy? Ten Reasons it Might Be” – Posted by John Cassidy

Another New Yorker contributor John Cassidy offered ten tenets that he believes many Americans hold that demonstrates national craziness. He seems to ask whether this country is a ten million square mile booby hatch. As Mr. Cassidy is a recent immigrant who is now a citizen, one might question his sanity for wanting to join us, as he seems to express a left of center view. Perhaps he can be converted.
 
Mr. Cassidy writes: “Some of these statements may be true. But truth or falsehood isn’t the point here: it is whether or not certain beliefs are amenable to reason. I don’t think these are, which is what puts them in the category of irrationality, flakiness, nonsense, nuttiness, absurdity, craziness….”

The tenets he claims that a substantial number of Americans hold fast to are stated rather broadly, in many cases, overly so. Most in question form would be objectionable if put to a witness in court as compound questions, or assuming facts not in evidence – the “when did you stop beating your wife” question. Pollsters working for a candidate or on behalf of an issue frequently use this technique to drum up evidence of support. Nevertheless, I will quote exactly how Mr. Cassidy posited them and respond.

1. Gun laws and gun deaths are unconnected.
Obviously, if one is shot with a gun and dies, the death is connected to the gun. The relationship of the law and the shooter’s act may be impossible to connect. The law not only would seek to control the availability of guns, but also when their use would be permissible or not. Also, homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths have different dynamics. Furthermore, while it is true that other countries that have restricted private ownership have much lower numbers and rates of gun homicides, there are some – Czech Republic and Switzerland come to mind – that are nearly as permissive as the most permissive of the United States, yet have a low rate. Part, if not all, of the answer lies in the U.S. having the most diverse population in the world. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations in one place goes a long way to explain.

2. Private enterprise is good; public enterprise is bad.
This is a pretty broad statement, but it would depend on what the “public enterprise” is and at what level of government it functions. The functions of defense, law enforcement, and a coercive system for settling disputes among persons should in most cases be a government monopoly, depending again on the level of government. Common rights-of-way, whether land, water, or air, should be generally be supervised, and regulated. They to some degree should planned, developed, and maintained at common expense; the is, taxes paid to government. Production of goods and services should be left to the private sector because government involvement historically has been inefficient and politicized and involves the coercive power of the state to selectively benefit those who wheedle their way in to the halls of power.

3. God created America and gave it a special purpose.
There are many different concepts of God, all of which are, and should be, constitutionally protected. Many different people believe theirs is the Promised Land. Beyond that, my comments would not be useful.

4. Our health-care system is the best there is.
In most ways, the actual product is the best. Patients from other countries come he for treatment, especially for heard to treat diseases and trauma. Judging it based on life expectancy, the most common measure used by the advocates of reform, is flawed because of our huge and diverse population. The most frequent criticism that has resulted in the recent turmoil is not the actual product quality, but the methods of finance and delivery. At lot depends on whether one believes that everyone, regardless of the ability to pay, should have the same level and quality of medical services. Despite the moralizing by the proponents of government takeover of medical care services, that is not an absolute. Our financing, through employer provided “insurance” that is tax deductible when individuals cannot have the same tax benefit is flawed. That, along with coverage for routine visits to physicians or minor complaints or examination, which distorts the market rate for such services, is the real root of the problem.

5. The Founding Fathers were saintly figures who established liberty and democracy for everyone.
Depends on one’s definition of “saintly.” Their goal was to establish a functioning system of governance commensurate with a maximum amount of individual liberty. Nearly all of them recognized that a democracy can be as tyrannical as a monarchy, and could easily deteriorate into mob rule. It did in France about the time the Constitution was being implemented. The Founders idea of a democratic republic was somewhat analogous to that of a constitutional, or limited, monarchy. The ultimate authority is limited. In a democratic republic that authority is that of the people, but they would be governed by certain fundamental principles. The most important of these is that the individual is sovereign in most of his activities; the majority is retrained from violating that sovereignty by a system of check and balances. The Federalist No 10 is instructive on this point. The culture of the time did not hold women the equal of men in public affairs, and, while the institution of slavery was becoming suspect, it was still not generally regarded as morally repugnant, and it was, in the view of many, a necessity for an economy where the primary source of wealth was land producing cash crops. The Founders did put in place the structure that fostered a free market economy that permitted innovation and inquiry that produced the industrial revolution that in turn would eventually change the culture.

6. America is the greatest country in the world.
Rather subjective, but if you don’t think so, maybe you should look around for someplace else to go. But, maybe not in all cases. Recall the cry of immigrant American Carl Schurz, Senator and Secretary of the Interior: “My country right or wrong. If right, to keep right; if wrong, to set right. But always my country.”

7. Tax rates are too high.
Perhaps. More importantly, too many tax breaks are used as a means of social engineering and favoring pet projects. A huge number of people do not actually pay any income tax. They have no skin in the game. It is true that consumption taxes are imposed on everyone who buys non-exempt goods and services.

8. America is a peace-loving nation: the reason it gets involved in so many wars is that foreigners keep attacking us.
Generally true. Particularly when “attacking” might be said to take different forms. The War of 1812, intervention in World War I, and perhaps Vietnam and Iraq were ill advised. The flaw in the latter two arguably was the manner in which they were prosecuted.

9. Cheap energy, gasoline especially, is our birthright.
No, nothing is a birthright. All sources of energy should be tapped, and considered. The marketplace will sort out the ones that are the most efficient. The fact that the United States has exploited energy resources more than other countries is a result of better technology and innovation. Pollution is a negative externality of energy production that is akin to trespass. Reasonable restraint and abatement measures are legitimate government functions.

10. Everybody else wishes they were American.
Probably not, but there are a lot trying to immigrate. So many that it causes a lot of concern, even across the political spectrum.

Craziness? I am not sure anyone would hold to all of these tenets as he stated them. But I invite further comment.

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