In his excellent article on evangelicals and the Bushadministration, Alan Wolfe writes that "[m]any evangelicals insist... that their campaign against abortion is the moral equivalent ofthe abolitionist campaign against slavery" ("The God That NeverFailed," November 6). The phrase "moral equivalent" derives fromWilliam James's 1906 essay "The Moral Equivalent of War" and is,today, widely misconstrued. James was not searching for somethingmorally equivalent to war; instead, he meant that war is immoraland hoped, rather wistfully, for something that would have the samemotivating force as war, but that, unlike war, would bemoral--analogous, said James, to "the mechanical equivalent ofheat." In this context, Wolfe's sentence has the unintendedimplication that there was something immoral about the abolitionistcampaign against slavery. With its rigid, solipsistic notion that azygote is a full- fledged citizen whose rights trump those of thewoman in whose body it was conceived, it seems far more accurate tosuggest that the campaign against abortion is the "immoral"equivalent of the campaign against slavery.
James A. Shankland
The Other Side
Perhaps center-left economists are bewildered, as Jonathan Chaitnotes, because ideology really does prevent them from seeing theU.S. economy in its full complexity ("Freakoutonomics," November6). For example, the past three decades have marked theinstitutionalization of certain stronger regulatory measures oncommerce than those that existed before the 1970s-- especially inareas having to do with personnel policy, such as affirmative actionand the environment. Any economist using market logic as his or hertool could have predicted that these rules would have a harsherimpact on older industries that paid relatively well for unskilledlabor, while leaving newer, brain-intensive technologies (andprofessions) comparatively unscathed. Another example: The pastthree decades have seen a massive increase in the percentage ofwomen entering the workforce; the college-educated among them havebeen having fewer children; social behavior has trended towardlawyers marrying lawyers and clerks marrying clerks; and the netresult is a skewing of household income distribution without anyparticular "policy" driving the change. (Sometimes consumers andproducers acting on their own really do have an effect on economicpolicy, without the benefit of the federal government's actions.)Finally, there is the chronic flaw in all those pie chart-typeanalyses purporting to show how terrible the distribution of wealthis in the United States--the failure to relate age to wealth,income, and productivity. The indiscriminate employment of thesecharts by economic think tanks and their compliant friends in themainstream media is disgraceful. Chait mentions thatincome-widening has not happened the same way in Europe as in theUnited States. Could this be because Europe is stagnant under theweight of the very tax and regulatory policies yearned for byleft-wing economists? I have yet to see a political journalistexplain how the United States will avoid European outcomes, withtechnological innovation approaching third-rate status, with peoplefrozen in their economic classes, and with one demographic time bombafter another ticking away under the reactionary elites running thegovernments. The Europeanization of the United States would havefar more serious consequences for the world than has theprogressive reduction of France, for instance, to the level of atourist destination for wealth-creating Americans and Asians.Finally, if Chait thinks that the average worker's living standardshave not improved, he's crazy. The average American's dollar canbuy more consumer goods that formerly have been available only tothe affluent, and the proportion of that dollar spent on many"necessities"--food is one conspicuous example--has declined.Perhaps this helps explain why "average" voters have tended to optfor Republicans so often and why left-leaning journalists andeconomists are so often bewildered.
John Judis's study of Senator John McCain's shifting views on U.S.foreign policy suggests to me that the best way to describe hisapproach is that he is a contrarian ("Neo-McCain," October 16).That is, McCain relishes opposing whatever is currently understood.This is disturbing on at least two fronts. First, it means that hedoes not possess a coherent view of foreign policy, and under hisleadership we will be tossed about whenever the sea gets rough.Second, I am not sure that America's long-term interests will bebest served by his cutting his cloth to satisfy the fashion of thetimes (or to oppose what is best).The myth of McCain as a leaderextraordinaire is just a myth.