»  National Review Online

February 13th, 2003

  Necessary But Impossible


Reading Mark Steyn's excellent piece in the February 8 issue of the Spectator (the English one, not her American cousin) got me to thinking about things that are necessary but impossible. Mark writes about the need for the US to get out of the UN. This is (a) an obviously good idea, and (b) never going to happen. There are rather a lot of things like that, leading one to suspect that Western Civ, and in particular the USA's instantiation of it, has seized up somehow.

"Rather a lot?" you say. "Come on, Derb, how many are there?" Well, I thought of ten in less than that number of minutes, without popping any arteries. If I were not oppressed and distracted by the prospect of having to shovel my driveway (Long Island is in the middle of a snowstorm), I bet I could come up with fifty more. Here's my personal top ten, anyway. Remember, the parameters here are: necessary (or at least a really, really good idea) but utterly impossible for political, social, or unknown reasons.

• Leave the UN

Mark Steyn doesn't quite say it all. He is scathing about how useless and anti-American the UN is, how it empowers the worst and disenfranchises the best, and so on. I would go further: I think the UN is an evil institution, a limb of Satan. I don't think it often does evil consciously (though it sometimes does, as when the General Assembly gives the obligatory standing ovation to whichever Mass Murderer of the Month has deigned to drop in on them — Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Yassir Arafat), but the effect of almost everything it does is evil. A large part of the Palestinian problem, for example, arises from the client-ification of Arab refugees (and their children, and their grandchildren …) by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East.

Does the UN ever do good? I can think of some cases. The World Health Organization, which is affiliated to the UN in some way I can't be bothered to understand, has eliminated some nasty diseases. That's an argument for a World Health Organization, though, not an argument for the UN. Remember when you bought that all-purpose gadget? The fax machine that is also a scanner and a printer? The "entertainment center" that has a radio, CD player, cassette player/recorder and speakers all in one box? Wouldn't you have been better off buying the separate bits, each of the best quality you could find? Right. Same with international bureaucracies. If we need a World Health Organization or a refugee-relief agency, let's get one — one of each.

Meanwhile let's withdraw from the UN horror show ASAP, and boot them out of our country, and issue a permanent ban on any of their employees or representatives ever setting foot in the USA. Hell, let's declare UN officials international outlaws, to be shot on sight. Why stop with half-measures?

• Shut down the NEA

I looked, and it's still there. This is unfinished business from the Gingrich revolution. Ah, the Gingrich revolution (sigh). Scrapping the NEA was one of those things that was supposed to get done, but somehow just never did. Apparently, by some magic I cannot fathom, the Podunk Theater Arts Group and the Natchitoches Disabled Black Lesbian Poetry Workshop have voices that ring louder in the halls of Congress than those of 200 million honest American philistines.

What on earth use is the NEA? I have written two novels, and am feeling the urge to write another one, but it never occurred to me to ask Joe Taxpayer to feed my children while I do so. What kind of "artist" would behave like that? What kind of person, not raised in North Korea, would think that, having had a creative thought, the next item of business should be to fire off a begging letter to Washington DC? Every communist country in the world, from Lenin's Russia down to present-day Cuba and China, has a state-financed Writer's Union, an Artist's Union, and so on. Can you name a single book, a single painting, a single play or ballet, that any of these bodies has ever produced? Of course you can't.

Satisfy the market, find a rich patron, or starve in a garret — great art has been produced by all three methods. Nothing has ever been produced by government departments of culture, or National Endowments for the Arts. We have a vigorous market, great numbers of rich people, and lots of garrets. Let's use them.

(And speaking of rich patrons: that novel I'm thinking about writing …)

• Shut down the US Postal Service

Just shut it down, cold turkey. Give everyone a few months' notice, to give private enterprise time to gear up. Heck, I use private enterprise for anything important, anyway. The USPS is hopeless. Standing in line at the post office — I waste a couple of hours a month doing just that — is like time travel. I am back in my childhood in socialist Britain, waiting with my Dad at the local Ministry of Health office for my issue of free orange juice.

Here is how stupid the USPS is. You want to mail a book? Fine, it can go book rate. You want to slip a one-page scribbled note to the recipient in with the book? Sorry, that makes it a letter — book rate no longer applies.

You know the post office as well as I do. Here comes the lunchtime crowd — better shut down a couple of service windows! Waiting on line for a government employee to interpret insane regulations for you is a thing the old USSR used to be famous for. It is a thing up with which free people should not put. Shut it down!

• Enforce immigration laws

There are things that are difficult to do because you are up against huge intellectual and sentimental inertia — getting out of the UN, for example. There are things that are intractable because democracy works against itself and needs deep structural reform — like the public spending problem (see below). And then there are things that desperately need doing, that overwhelming majorities of the citizenry wants done, and the doing of which is crucial to the most basic issues of national security, yet which don't get done for reasons nobody can explain. Here we are with a number of illegal immigrants — people who introduced themselves to the USA by breaking the very first law they had an opportunity to break — that is either 7 million, or 11 million, or some number in between. We can't even count them. It's true that not all of them are easy to find, but a heck of a lot of them are. Give me a gun, a badge, and a good police dog, and I could walk out of my house any morning of the week and round up a dozen I-I's. They congregate on certain street corners in my town, looking for a day's work. Why can't we do this?

People who have actually seen the feddle gummint in operation, colleagues who have worked in Washington DC, tell me that nothing ever gets done. "It's just turf fights and musical chairs. Nobody actually does anything." The first time I heard this, I was skeptical. All those sleek, well-paid bureaucrats must be doing something. No: the immigration fiasco proves the case. They are doing nothing, nothing, nothing.

• Outlaw public-sector unions

Why do public-sector workers need unions? The purpose of unions is to protect employees against unscrupulous bosses, who might seek to maximize profits by taking advantage of those who work for them. In the public sector, however, there are no profits to be maximized, no shareholders to appease. The work that is being done is being done in the public interest — against which, as Calvin Coolidge quite correctly declared, there is no right to strike. So what do government workers need unions for? If public-sector workers don't like their pay and conditions, they can appeal to the tax-paying public, who are their ultimate employers. If that doesn't work, they can go get jobs in the private sector, and take their chances with capitalism, like free citizens of a free nation.

Please don't write and whine to me: "I'm a public servant. I've worked my buns off for 30 years at a demanding and essential job, for an unimpressive salary. Why are you being mean to me?" I'm not being mean to you. I like you. Thank you for your work, for your service to my country. I sincerely thank you. I just don't see why you need a union.

This one is impossible, of course, because the public sector is now so vast and well-organized they can win elections all by themselves. The Democratic Party is essentially a party of public-sector workers. So …

• Disenfranchise nonmilitary government employees

Take away their vote. If you let public employees vote, what do you think they are going to vote for? For more public spending, more government jobs, higher government wages. Can you vote yourself a pay raise? No, and neither can I. Bill Bureaucrat and Pam Paperpusher can, though, and they do. Bill and Pam have no problem at all with ever-swelling public budgets, with ever-expanding public services, with the creeping socialism that is slowly throttling our liberties out of existence.

Please don't write and whine to me: "I'm a public servant. I've worked my buns off for 30 years at a demanding and essential job, for an unimpressive salary. Why are you being mean to me?" I'm not being mean to you. I like you. Thank you for your work, for your service to my country. I sincerely thank you. I just don't see why you should have a vote.

Working for the State, or the Nation, is a great privilege and an honor. It brings with it great security, since States and Nations very, very rarely go out of business. Let privilege, honor and security be rewards enough; let's not gild the lily with fripperies like voting rights.

• Scrap laws against discrimination

Item: There is a firm in Houston named Quietflex that makes ducts for air conditioners. Theur workforce includes a lot of Mexican immigrants, and a lot of Vietnamese immigrants. None of these folk speak English very well, so the firm needs supervisors who are trilingual in English, Vietnamese and Spanish. Finding that there are no such people, the firm put the Mexican workers in one department, the Vietnamese in another. Since your average Vietnamese immigrant has nimbler fingers, and probably a better education, than your average Mexican immigrant, the department that the Vietnamese-immigrant workers are concentrated in pays slightly better than the other. This has brought the wrath of just about everybody down on Quietflex: the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, the New York Times, and for all I know the UN as well. Nobody so far seems to have told the Mexican-immigrant employees that if they don't like the situation, they can go look for work elsewhere — perhaps in a Mexican-owned firm, of which Texas has many. Or how about in Mexico itself?

Item: Charles Bell, who is a homosexual, was fired after four months as manager of Leona Helmsley's Park Lane Hotel, in New York City. He had lied on his résumé to get the job, a fact that had been covered up by the hotel's Chief Operating Officer Patrick Ward, another homosexual. Bell has admitted that he used illegal drugs while employed at the Park Lane. He also handed out free hotel rooms to friends of the same persuasion as himself. On one occasion, he invited 20 leather fetishists to the hotel in advance of a downtown party. Mrs. Helmsley, who is 82, encountered one of these persons, in full leather fetish regalia, when she stepped into the elevator. ("'He was dressed completely in black leather?' Mrs. Helmsley's attorney asked. 'Not completely ,' snapped Bell." — from the court report in the New York Post, 1/16/03.) The jury found for Bell, and awarded him $11 million for his distress. Eleven million dollars.

Given that our rights to private property and freedom of association are supposed to be among the very pillars of our legal order, why shouldn't Quietflex put Spanish-speaking employees in one room, under a bilingual English-Spanish-speaking supervisor, and Vietnamese-speaking employees in another, under a bilingual English-Vietnamese-speaking supervisor? Who is hurt by this — actually hurt? It is true that the Mexican-immigrant employees would be paid more if they spoke Vietnamese: but then, they'd be paid more if they were George Clooney. The right to earn as much as someone else earns is not in the Constitution. Why shouldn't Leona Helmsley fire an employee when she learns that he is homosexual, and that his sex habits are getting in the way of him doing his job? Why should anyone have to hire homosexuals, anyway? Lot's of people don't like homosexuals. You may think that is wicked of them, and you are entitled to your opinion, but I can't see why a businessman should be forced to hire people whose personal habits he doesn't like.

There was once a politician who said out loud that anti-discrimination laws were an infringement of our sacred liberties. That was Barry Goldwater, and that was 40 years ago. Back in those days, if you wanted $11 million, you had to invest cleverly, or work really hard at building a business, or be born into a rich family — none of them obnoxious or immoral things. Now you can take up some freakish lifestyle, lie about it on your résumé, insult your employer, squeeze out a few tears on the witness stand, and — ker-ching!

• Cut government budgets

The states are in trouble — you've read about that. My own state, New York, is looking at a $5 billion budget gap. The reason is not hard to find. In the dot-com boom years, and even for some time after them, my state government spent money like a drunken sailor. The Business Council of New York State has all the stats. In the five years to September 2002, the state added more than 10,000 jobs, an increase of 4½ per cent, raising the state's payroll by about $3 billion. Just in the year after 9/11, New York State lost 43,700 private-sector jobs … and added 2,900 public-sector ones. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

You know the story. California is in a similar mess. Why? Why did New York State need 10,000 more employees in September 2002 than it needed in September 1997? Was I getting 4½ per cent more services from my state in 2002 than in 1997? Or were existing services 4½ per cent better?

These things you are not allowed to ask. There is an ineluctable law of nature at work here. Unlike you and me, a state gets to spend more money every year, every blessed year, come rain or shine, come hell or high water. Why? I already told you: you are not allowed to ask.

• Grant independence to Puerto Rico

Who wants Puerto Rico? Well, obviously the Puerto Ricans do. It's their place. Not "their country" because it isn't a country. It's a "commonwealth," which is a fancy way of saying it's a US colony. What are we doing in the colony business? Isn't this a free republic? Didn't we get started in the first place as an anti-colonial enterprise?

We can't offer Puerto Rico statehood because they have nothing in common with us, not even a language. (And, oh, also because any Senator or Representative who voted for such a measure would be lynched on return to his home district.) What's that you say? — Puerto Ricans have fought bravely in our country's wars? Great! Let's give US citizenship to those who have done so! God bless them! For the rest — give them back their country.

• Start testing our nukes again

The USA has not tested a nuclear weapon since 1992. Though we have never ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of September 1996 (in a rare spasm of good sense, the US Senate voted it down in 1999), there is an "understanding" among the major nuclear powers not to test. Russia last tested a weapon in 1990; Britain in 1991; China and France in 1996. Most of our nuclear weapons are old — some more than 30 years old. Nuclear weapons are made of unstable substances. They deteriorate in time. (To the degree, according to one Russian scientist, that they start to get warm.) They become ineffective at some unknown rate. Some portion of our nuclear stockpile is now worthless. What proportion? We have no idea. Testing would help us find out.

The objection to this is that if we resumed testing, so would everyone else. Fine: let 'em. I want other counties nukes to work well, too. If China, say, gets to feel that only one in five if her nukes are operational, they will launch five to do the job of one. That is not good. If Hu Jintao wants to pop the big flashbulb over Suffolk County, I'll take my chances. Knowing that five of the suckers are incoming is a lot more difficult for me to cope with.

You can never have too many nukes. The main thing is to make sure that we have more than anyone else, and that the darn things work. We have plenty of deserts, and access to outer space, too. Let's get our nuclear arsenal buffed up, shining, and ready to go.

(My NRODT colleague Jeff Hart has a saying I like: "We shouldn't build any more nuclear weapons till we've used the ones we've got." Right!)