The myth of excessive wealth

I sent the following letter concerning wealth to the Daily Beacon, the University of Tennessee’s student newspaper, on February 15, but it was never printed:

Sam Smith’s February 15 column was illogical and economically ignorant. He begins by declaring that the federal government spends too much. His only solution to this problem: increase taxes on the wealthy. Low taxation does not water the root of our growing federal deficit–excessive spending is its true life-source. Over the past twenty years, federal spending has tripled. Because no level of taxation can keep up with this exuberant trend, the only realistic solution is to stop the government’s spending spree.

Smith then points his wayward cannon at the “excessively” wealthy, blasting the likes of Lane Kiffin, an easy target in this media market. It is a contradiction in terms to speak of “excessive wealth”; there is no such thing. An individual who gains wealth through productivity or capital investment, regardless of selfishness, benefits everyone else in the process, by meeting the demands of consumers. Moreover, the initial investment of wealthy consumers eventually allows even the poor to enjoy life’s luxuries. If there were no one “excessively” wealthy enough to buy the first television sets, the first computers, or the first cellular phones, then inventors would have toiled fruitlessly, and no reinvestment into their innovations would have taken place. Without the “excessively” wealthy purchasing high-dollar goods, we would not know many of the technologies we enjoy cheaply today.

Smith echoes many of my professors, who complain that the football coach earns too much money. This is in truth a lament over the rights of individuals to consume freely; it assumes that people who choose to watch football are somehow guilty of injustice. To the professor of this mindset, I offer a promise: When you attract 100,000 people to pay $50 a head to sit through one of your lectures, the University of Tennessee will kindly add a zero or two to the amount on your paycheck.

Assassinating suspects undermines justice

My following letter about assassinating terrorists appeared in the Daily Beacon, the University of Tennessee’s student newspaper, on March 5, 2010:

In light of the publication of a secret Israeli assassination in Dubai, Treston Wheat committed his Feb. 25 waste of ink to glorifying assassination, which he deems necessary to the fight against terrorism. Even if this were true, assassinations are illegal under domestic and international law, so he condones lawbreaking. While ignoring all moral and legal questions, Wheat boldly assumes that assassination can stop terrorism. It cannot, and one could argue that the assassination of suspected terrorists increases the strength and legitimacy of the terrorists’ cause, while undermining our claim on liberty and justice.

As a Jew and a staunch advocate of freedom, due process and the rule of law, I am often disappointed by the Israeli government’s tactics and policies. I am equally disappointed by self-proclaimed followers of Christ like Wheat, who defend government policies that are immoral, expedient, unnecessary and antagonistic to everything Jesus taught. The philosophical innovation of Judaism was the recognition of human freedom; to this, Christianity added the common brotherhood of all men. These Western religious tenets, freedom and brotherhood, have been abandoned by the current Israeli coalition and its supporters. Do I support Israel? Yes, but only an Israel that recognizes all its inhabitants as free and equal under the law, and one need not look far into Israel’s laws to discover that it does not. I hold every other nation to the same standard.

The United States itself participates in secret assassinations more often than we know. The targets of these assassinations are suspects. They are innocent until proven guilty. They are the accused, and in a free and just society, the accused have rights. Our CIA is not all bad, but it is often involved in a lot of mischief offensive to our idea of justice. Recently, ABC News released agency recordings of a small plane being shot down over Peru, with the aid of our CIA. The plane was suspected of smuggling drugs, but was actually carrying an American missionary family, all of whom were killed by the machine gun fire of Peruvian fighter jets. These deaths are a consequence of the notion that it is okay to murder suspects without the benefit of a trial, or even evidence presented against them. Even if the plane had been carrying drugs and smugglers, since when is capital punishment, executed in secrecy without trial, the proper punishment for this crime? Or any other crime, for that matter? This practice destroys 800 years of our legal traditions dating back to the Magna Carta. Now we are told by the CIA that it considers itself obliged to assassinate American citizens, on secret evidence, in order to protect us from threats. The power given to the U.S. president by our passive acceptance of this practice is definitively totalitarian. It is a real threat to essential human liberties.

Terrorism works, and the more brutal the physical force opposing it, the more quickly it strengthens and spreads. The true “War on Terror” is a battle of ideas and politics, because terrorists are inspired by ideas and political grievances. I prefer destroying the dark tree of terrorism at its root — not picking off one prickly leaf at a time, as several grow back in its place. To do this, we must ask ourselves what the root cause of terrorism is and address that cause. If we have not properly answered that question, and the answer to it is well-publicized by its perpetrators, we cannot begin to address the terrorist threat.

Wheat’s disapproval of the recent Mossad assassination stems from its sloppiness, not its intent. The trouble with the Israeli government’s policy of murdering suspected criminals, Wheat has so amorally asserted, is that the crime was eventually caught on film. The real trouble is that assassination is murder with impunity. It is always unjust. If a person is evil enough to “deserve” assassination, certainly that person is evil enough to stand trial for his crimes.

Alex Winston

Senior in political science

Letter to the editor of the Daily Beacon, 02.05.10

My following letter appeared in the Daily Beacon, the University of Tennessee’s student newspaper, on February 5th:

Sam Smith’s Feb. 1 column was written with the journalistic integrity of a White House spokesperson.

Of President Obama’s unprecedented social reforms, he says that “it’s clear the policies being proposed would greatly benefit the American people.” This clarity is imaginary. The real lack of clarity in legislation today is a government failure, not to mention a broken campaign promise. If asked what exactly is being proposed in Washington, Smith would not know. Nor would anyone else. I suspect that general benefits to the people never require 2,000 pages of statutory language. While the reforms being proposed by Obama’s administration may arguably benefit some, it is a mistake to say that they would benefit the people in general. A law enforced always injures someone.

Smith also called Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito an “idiot” for mouthing the words “not true” and then challenged Alito to explain this. Just in case Judge Alito forgets to read Smith’s column, I will explain for him. Obama said that because of the Citizens United decision, American elections could be “bankrolled by foreign entities.” This is, as Alito correctly mouthed, not true. The opinion contains language specifically preventing this from happening. Obama was lying. If Alito had any chutzpah (which Smith incorrectly spelled hootspa), he would have channeled Joe Wilson and yelled, “NOT TRUE!”

Smith opines that the Republicans are “no longer a ‘serious’ opposition party,” with no serious ideas and no serious leaders. Republican leadership is serious to the extent that it is truly Republican—it is not. Serious Republican ideas do exist, even though the party’s official leadership does not acknowledge them. That human existence involves some degree of suffering that cannot be legislated away is an idea as serious as it is true, but it makes the political tinkerers in Washington seem irrelevant, so they selfishly refuse to give credence to it.

Alex Winston

Senior in political science

Letter to the editor, 10.27.09

My following letter to the Daily Beacon, the U. of Tennessee’s student newspaper, appeared on October 27, 2009.

For an exemplary misunderstanding of economics, freedom, and human action, refer to Amien Essif’s October 19 column, “Resisting self-interest an act of freedom”.

 In order to understand the human world, we must first recognize that each and every person is responsible for his/her own actions.  External authorities can restrict individual actions, but cannot force individuals to act.  You picked up a newspaper today and began reading.  You are reading out of your own volition.  No government, no religion, no community, no party, no corporation, no family, no philosophy department, nor any other authority outside of yourself can force you to read this letter.  

 Human freedom is a fact that can only be escaped in the imagination, and Essif’s column is an escapist’s trip down the rabbit-hole.  He who will publicly complain about the restrictiveness of capitalism’s conveniences has strayed far from reality.

 Essif admonishes “private institutions whose first interest is making money–and I’m not talking about people.”  If he is not talking about people, he imagines the animate in the inanimate.  His column, however intriguing, becomes fictional when he asserts that corporations–and not the people within them–have any interests at all.  No corporation has ever had any interest that was not in fact a human interest.  Pick any corporation, and remove all of its human interests; you will then find it has no interests whatsoever.

 Essif says that “Nabisco, acting individually, can practically force me to buy a package of crackers.”  Forgetting the absurdity of this statement, let us examine reality.  What have the generally good, honest, hard-working people of the Nabisco corporation done?  They have fed the hungry, and they have done so by acting in their own interests.  Essif’s purchase of crackers, far from restricting his freedom, is evidence that his freedom is relatively unhindered by false authorities.

 The false authority Essif worships is the community, an entity incapable of thought or action.  So, predictably, all of his faulty logic culminates in the exaltation of communal living.  Communal life is simpler in the sense that it is less complex, but it is harder in the sense that it requires much more work.  To spend five minutes of labor on a pack of crackers would be impossible for a practicing communist, whose mere sustenance hangs often in the balance.  Essif should be free to go forth and live as he pleases, on a commune, but neither he nor anyone else should ever have the authority to force the restrictions of communal living on those of us who understand freedom and cherish it.

Respectfully,

Alex Winston

Junior in political science