Thursday, February 13, 2003
John Derbyshire has written another one of his "list" columns again. Those are always fun. This time, he's got 10 things that "everyone knows" should happen, but that are impossible.
I could quibble with the list ("disenfranchise nonmilitary government employees," John? Who do you think you are, Robert Heinlein?), or praise it (John Derbyshire on the right and Jeffrey Rosen on the left seem to be the only folks grappling with the high and increasing cost - in money and freedom - of anti-discrimination law), but hey, wouldn't it be more fun to add my own ten items to his list? (Well, for me, anyhow.) Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, John.
11. End bi-lingual education. Bi-lingual education is the only form of compulsory segregation extant. It is indefensible on pedagogic grounds. It is an astonishing waste of money. It is wildly unpopular, including among Hispanics. There is recent, dramatic and basically uncontested evidence that you can eliminate the program and achieve substantial improvement in education outcomes in a very short span of time. But every state and locality that tries to end the practice winds up in a drag-out, nasty fight, neither political party will take up the issue, and even after referenda pass to end the practice, it clings tenaciously to life through bureaucratic obstruction and outright flouting of the law. Why on earth is this so? Beats me. Check out English for the Children, Ron Unz's organization dedicated to ending bi-lingual ed, if you want the full lowdown on his heroic fight.
12. Prohibit the export of nuclear power plants. Why is Russia building Iran a nuclear power plant? Why was America building one for North Korea? For that matter, why is there a nuclear plant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire? What are we all, crazy? Nukes and nuts don't mix. It should be possible for those nations capable of exporting such technology to band together and agree: this is insane, and we won't do it anymore. Yeah, I know, some countries need hard currency and will do almost anything to get it. How much hard currency does it take to rebuild Tokyo, or London, or Paris, or Frankfurt, or Moscow, or Manhattan? I mean, selling nuclear plants to loonies is . . . loonie. Let 'em burn coal.
13. End subsidies for higher education. We're all supposed to repeat ten times a day that education is the ticket to the middle class. I'll tell you the ticket to the middle class: training as a plumber, or a carpenter, or some other skilled trade. Do you know how much these people make? Do you know how few of the ground-level folks who work for contractors and the like are citizens? When we renovated our apartment, the folks working in it were from the Caribbean, from Ireland, from Central America. None had the accents of a native-born American. For a large number of people, college is a great big con, a detour away from figuring out how to make a life, or remedial primary education. The huge subsidies we dole out for higher education have created structural inflation, which in turn has turned an entire generation of Americans into debt slaves. Don't we all really know, deep down, it's time to stop the insanity?
14. Eliminate the District of Columbia. No, don't make it a state; just parcel it out to Maryland and/or Virginia. The original purposes for the creation of D.C. as a corpus separatum are no longer valid: we no longer need to compromise between Northern and Southern sections on the placement of the capital, and as the D.C. suburbs are economically dependent on government it's no longer valid to say that disenfranchising the capital's voters has kept the government from becoming an interest group in its own right. It would be ludicrous to make D.C. a state. So just chop it up. We can leave the Capitol, the White House, the monuments and such as a Federal entity. Give the rest to a governor with time and incentive to manage the city out of the mess it's become.
15. Ban Indian "gaming." Does anyone think putting casinos on Indian territory was a good idea? Did anyone vote for it? If not, why have these awful places proliferated around the country, to the point where my state (New York) is handing over a chunk of downtown Buffalo to an Indian tribe in order to allow for the building of a casino? Gambling is a parasitic industry that would not be profitable if there were not addicts, mild and serious, who cripple or ruin their lives to feed their habit. And Indian casinos are the worst; at least Las Vegas now has other "entertainments" around that produce some higher-quality jobs and economic development. Indian casinos are just takers. Why did we allow this to happen? Why are we, apparently, helpless to stop it?
16. End state lotteries, too. What on earth is the moral grounds for having the state bilk money out of idiots in this manner? State lotteries are probably the worst-odds gambling product on the market. They only exist because the state has banned competition. The advertising that supports the product is wildly misleading. We're corrupting our citizenry - and for what? So we can indulge in a little more government spending? Don't you feel a little bit dirty every time you see one of those Lotto ads? Doesn't everybody?
17. Legalize pot. Regardless of where you stand on the drug war as a whole, the war on pot is loopy, the absurdum to which the drug war can and has been reduced. I don't like pot and I think stoner "culture" is ridiculous at best. I am never going to buy hemp clothing, hemp oil, or heat my house with hemp. But having a law so widely flouted can't be good for the law's reputation. We all know this, don't we?
18. Reduce the size of the cabinet. Why does every President think it necessary to add new cabinet - or "cabinet-level" positions? Why do we still have departments of Commerce, Energy and Education? We should be able to make do with six cabinet positions: Justice, State, War (now would seem to be a good time to rename "Defense"), Interior, Treasury and Welfare (also an instructive name-change). No one treats "Veterans Affairs" as a serious cabinet position; why do we have to waste the time and money pretending to? The result of endless cabinet expansion is to force the government to create a second, less-visible layer of "real" controllers, whether it's the National Security Council to "really" run foreign policy or a Karl Rove type to "really" run a whole array of domestic policies. This can't be, ultimately, good for democracy, quite apart from the ludicrous duplication and expense. Who wants this mess we've got? Why, after successive Republican calls to eliminate this or that department, do they keep proliferating?
19. Treat Saudi Arabia like an enemy. Is this one even controversial anymore? No one thinks the Saudis are our friends. Why is there even a pretense? What possible benefit do we gain from continuing our relationship with the corrupt and murderous kingdom? We supposedly need them for their oil. Really? Don't they really need us far, far more than we need them? Quite apart from the fact that they need our military to defend them and our financial system to handle their money, who precisely would collapse first if, say, they were no longer permitted to export their oil? Say oil prices tripled overnight. That would be painful for us. But they have no other source of income. Why are we treating these people gently? Why are they not begging us not to dispossess them of all that they own?
20. Militarize space. We are told this would be a bad thing. Why? We depend on space for our economy to function and, increasingly, for our military to operate effectively. Does anyone seriously object to the "militarization" of the high seas by the U.S. Navy, or the British Navy before it? That militarization was an unalloyed good. Having a robust ability to project force to defend our satellites in orbit would be an unalloyed good. Having weapons in space that could shoot down missiles would be even better, as would having weapons in space that could be used against a terrestrial enemy. An space arms-race would either bankrupt our remaining enemies or provide the final impetus for humans to get beyond this planet and establish a permanent extra-terrestrial presence. Two more goods. Who's against this?
Anyone want to try another ten?