The Return of States' Rights

To the Editors:

The article "The Return of States' Rights" by Cass R. Sunstein in the November 20, 2000, issue is superb and a much neglected aspect of political evolution. What is involved is a reversal of the outcome of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Not only are the Republicans anti-Federalists, rejecting the Constitution, but as anti-Federalists they are not the least interested in the classic anti-Federalist triumph, the Bill of Rights. Aside from a desire to passionately defend a misreading of the Second Amendment, they leave the protection of this document to the ACLU, which, thankfully, cares deeply.

Basically, the movement is an attempt to reverse social reform. It has very little to do with supporting small government--in particular the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and Transportation. It wants state control of how federal taxes are spent, and it wants civil rights limited by whatever local political consensus might tolerate.

John A. Betterly

Troy, NY


To The Editors:

"Unsustainable," by Eamonn Fingleton [August 14, 2000] does not point to the real reason for America's mounting trade deficits and declining competitiveness. It is not just a lack of economic nationalism. Certainly we have lost many markets due to noncompetitiveness and failure to keep a technical edge and produce superb products. The real reason for the declining competitiveness and the mounting trade deficit is the gutlessness of the CEOs and the managerial class. They are a class of people who enjoy huge salaries and, supposedly, knowledgeability. Unfortunately, it now turns out that many of them just want to hold on to their control for a few years without making waves, without taking chances, and then retire with stock options, golden parachutes, huge severance payments, and so on. They are almost unpatriotic in their refusal to develop new products or to improve on products that would give the United States superiority in markets. Instead, what is happening is similar to what happened with the auto industry until it was boosted by the threat of Japan taking over the entire automobile market in the United States and the world. Detroit kept making shoddy products, and one General Motors CEO had the arrogance to say, "What is good for General Motors is good for the United States." Japan came out with exciting innovations, increased performance, reliability, durability, and economy. The Japanese nose came into our tent, and it was really only five years ago that General Motors came out with Aurora engineering, which is, indeed, superior engineering.

I blame our gutless managerial class who came up through an old-boys system that really is designed to preserve the fortunes of a few people at the expense of the nation.

Yale J. Berry, M.D.

Brookline, MA

Eamonn Fingleton Responds:

Dr. Berry has, of course, a point that corporate fat cats have contributed to the undermining of America's once unquestioned leadership in advanced manufacturing. But the corporate fat cats are merely responding to an incentive system that society can--and should--change. Ultimately, if the United States is to rebuild and enhance its advanced manufacturing industries, action must be taken to align the incentives of top executives with the needs of American society.

Blame Government First

To the Editors

Simon Rodberg accuses me of trying "to shift the tire scandal focus from big corporations to big government" in my Wall Street Journal op-ed on the Firestone tire failures ["Blame Government First," TAP, November 6, 2000]. This is curious, since I expressly noted the possibility of "not only a defective product but a corporate cover-up." My focus, however, was the solution proposed in Congress: namely, to expand the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA]. I argued, on the basis of General Accounting Office reports and federal court rulings, that NHTSA has a lethal track record in areas ranging from its fuel-economy standards to its air bag mandate to its truck brake rules. Mr. Rodberg doesn't offer a single criticism of this point. If, in Mr. Rodberg's mind, criticizing a proposed cure constitutes an attempt to shift the focus from the disease, then I'd hate to have him as my doctor.

Mr. Rodberg decries the fact that my op-ed didn't mention that Ford is a contributor to the Competitive Enterprise Institute [CEI], as if this would reveal that we follow some corporate agenda rather than our free market beliefs. In fact, when it comes to auto issues, CEI has quite often opposed the automobile industry. We opposed trade quotas on foreign auto parts when the Big Three favored them, we favored repeal of the air bag mandate while they did not, and General Motors once tried to have one of our lawsuits against NHTSA tossed out of court.

But we do get corporate support, because companies realize (rightly, I think) that in the long term they're better off with more economic freedom, not less. We seek and take support from anyone but government. If putting an acronym--$FABG--after our op-eds will satisfy Mr. Rodberg, then maybe we'll do it. But since many of our opponents get both corporate and government support, they'll have to come up with their own acronym.

Mr. Rodberg writes that, when it comes to my column, Ford's "contribution looks like money well spent." I take that to mean he liked the piece, and I thank him for the compliment.