Finally, a reader who doesn't think I'm excrement
by Craig J. Cantoni
After writing two books and at least a thousand political essays and newspaper columns in favor of individual rights and in opposition to statism, collectivism, and militarism, I've learned from readers on the Left and Right that I'm a simpleton, a jerk, an ideologue, a peacenik, a warmonger, a utopian, an anarchist, and various kinds of excrement. Unfortunately, I haven't learned anything of substance from 99 percent of readers who have disagreed with me. That's why I'm sharing the email below with you. It's from a left-liberal who actually didn't resort to name-calling and wanted to begin an intelligent dialogue.
My response follows her email. And following my response is a link to the original newspaper editorial that triggered her email.
I haven't looked into your bio or your location, but I've been reading your editorial letters in the Sonoran News pretty steadily. The Sonoran News is a local paper that is published by Don Sorchych and covers the earth trembling news that occurs in Cave Creek and Carefree, Arizona.
I was raised Irish Catholic on Chicago's South Side, became a left-wing radical during the 60s, and now consider myself a left-Libertarian. I even took a test online a few months ago, sent to me by my brother in Portland who is a center/right Republican [we agree to disagree] and the test confirmed that I am a LL.
I just read your latest editorial column about Obama's statement that a government should represent the "will of the people." You made some dynamic points, arguing that the ultimate "will" should be that of the individual, using slavery in the South as a stunning example. In theory I agree. This can get into some hairy concepts, however.
Take a manufacturing enterprise. The owner pays the workers the least he can get away with. He knows he has to pay them enough for them to stay, but also as minimally as possible to make his profit. The worker wants to make enough to feed his family and have a little bit left for some pleasures.
The owner is an individual. But each worker is also an individual. Is the right of the company owner more or less or equal to the rights of the worker? Not "the workers." The worker. I've always been offended by the term "masses." The working class "masses." The word suggests some faceless collection of morons which labors mindlessly and lives mindlessly.
This idea, the right, or autonomy, of the individual [which I agree with!] in my opinion, presents more conflicts than solutions. Each of us human beings looks out from our own eyes at the rest of the universe. The universe, in our own perception, revolves around each of us. I am "me," an entity. You are "you," an entity. My individuality is precious to me, as each of our individualities is precious to each of us. The starving child in Namibia is seeing the universe through his eyes, and that is all he knows. He must survive. It's an imperative of living things.
I smoke. I hate it that now I can't smoke in restaurants or bars. Soon I may be given a ticket for smoking in a car with children. This is how I feel as an individual. My freedom to smoke is being diminished every day. But there are people who are sickened by the smell of smoke. They are also individuals. They have, for years, avoided places where smoking was allowed because it made them nauseous. So they fought back. And now we have more laws. What is right and what is wrong? Whose "right" is right?
And here is the ultimate problem. How do the smoker and the non-smoker resolve their differences without laws? How do the worker and the owner resolve their conflicts about pay and benefits without rules? The days of a "handshake" are over. My stepfather, an old-time plumber [and he taught me the trade which I've been doing for 26 years] made all his "deals" with a handshake. Now there are lawyers with contracts to sign. How do we get back to the old ways?
I don't have any solutions. I truly respect your ideas. I love reading what you write! I ponder all these questions every day. About six months ago our local publisher, Sorchych, was using the term "anarchist" as a slam against all the people he disagreed with. This person, that person, they were all "anarchists."
I finally wrote a letter to the editor one week, the same week he printed an article by you explaining the philosophy of Libertarianism. I pointed out, in my letter, that anarchism is just one step away from Libertarianism. I told him that he was misusing the term. He never used it again.
You don't need to reply to this if you don't have time. I only wanted to express some thoughts to you. Your columns are very thought-provoking.
Keep up the good work!
Thanks for writing. I enjoy philosophical discussions with intelligent people. Let me address the points in your email, starting with the things we have in common.
We've both lived in Chicago, we both believe in civil liberties, we both care about the poor, and we both are Catholic.
Regarding Catholicism, my son just finished 12 years of Catholic education and is the third generation of the Cantoni clan to do so. Like me and my parents, he learned moral values and service to others from his Catholic education. On the negative side, his teachers tried to indoctrinate him in Catholic notions of social justice, but he is too versed in economics to fall for communitarian ideas that keep people in poverty. Of course, there also is the staggering hypocrisy of the Pope and College of Cardinals, who preach about the poor and live in splendor. Hmm, reminds me of Nancy Pelosi and other members of our House of Lords.
Here's where we'll probably part company: Private school taught my son and me how socialism, or collectivism, stops people from thinking or caring about fairness to the individual. This is especially true for public education. To wit, even the most diehard conservatives and free marketers send their kids to public schools and don't stop to think that they are being subsidized by childless taxpayers, by homeschoolers, and by parents who send their kids to private school. The subsidy is huge: In the case of my wife and me, about $190,000 in public education taxes will be taken from us over our adult lives. It's one thing to subsidize the poor, but it's an entirely different matter to subsidize middle- and upper-class parents who can afford to pay the full cost of their children's education. (We support an orphan at a Catholic orphanage and school in southern Mexico.) By going to Catholic school, my son realized on his own that our neighbors could afford big SUVs and we couldn't, because their kids went to public school. In a very real sense, we were buying their SUVs. More important, it goes against the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion for people to have to pay twice for education, once in public school taxes and once in private tuition, in order to have their children escape secular schools for religious ones.
Now with the advent of nationalized health care, people will have to pay twice if they want medical care that isn't authorized by the state system. Perhaps the aforementioned diehard conservatives and free marketers will come to understand what it's like to pay twice. Again, it's one thing to subsidize the health care of the poor; it's another matter to subsidize the health care of those who have bought fancy cars and lived high off the credit hog all of their lives instead of saving for the infirmities of old age. Socialized medicine will make no distinctions between the two, just like socialized education makes no distinction between the two.
Regarding anarchism and libertarianism, the two are not synonymous. Anarchism is the absence of government. Libertarianism is a belief that the purpose of government is to protect life, liberty, and property. Libertarians want a government that is strong enough to do that.
I was particularly intrigued by your comments about employers wanting to set wages as low as possible. Why was I intrigued? Not only because of my philosophical interest in the subject, but also because I have 30 years of experience in setting wages in industry.
Wages are ultimately determined by productivity at the level of the individual, the firm, and the nation -- the higher the productivity of the individual, the higher his wage; the higher the productivity of the firm, the higher the wages in the firm; the higher the productivity of the nation, the higher the per-capita income of its citizens. Henry Ford paid his workers double the prevailing factory wage, not for altruistic reasons, but for the practical reason that it reduced employee turnover and increased productivity.
Karl Marx has been proven wrong about capitalism leading to subsistence wages. Even in communist countries, wages are ultimately set by productivity. Of course, productivity stinks in communist countries.
I've probably worked for, and consulted with, over 50 companies. Not one of them exploited employees or wanted to pay as little as possible. To the contrary, they wanted to pay as much as productivity would allow -- and also what the consumer would allow. Of course, the owners expected a return, or profit, for risking their capital; otherwise, they wouldn't have started the business in the first place.
Incidentally, the average profit for all businesses is 5-6 percent, which is a small price to pay for the benefits of a market economy. That's much less than the cost of government apparatchiks in a planned economy.
I'd be interested in how you think pay should be determined.
Regarding smoking, two principles come into play: First, you should be free to do anything you want as long as it doesn't harm others who have no choice in the matter. Second, you should be free to do anything you want on your property as long as it doesn't harm others who have no choice in the matter. Clearly, allowing smoking on such private property as a restaurant or bar doesn't harm people who have no choice in the matter [because everyone chose to be there]. To be harmed by smoke in a restaurant or bar (assuming that second-hand smoke is harmful) someone has to voluntarily walk into the establishment. He has a choice: patronize the smoking establishment or patronize a non-smoking establishment. Somehow, Americans have come to believe that freedom is synonymous with convenience -- that they shouldn't have to make choices and be inconvenienced. They've also become busybodies domestically and internationally, wanting to tell others how to live -- namely in their own narcissistic image.
Read Craig J. Cantoni's newspaper editorial that prompted the exchange.
An author and columnist, Mr. Cantoni can be reached at email@example.com.