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Readers sound off

Readers weigh in on presidential power, intellectual influences, the moral dimension of free-market capitalism, Patsy Mink’s legacy, and more.

When I received the Sept–Oct/12 Magazine, I was quite pleased to see a photo by Adam Nadel, AB’90, on the cover. When he was featured in the Sept–Oct/04 issue, I tore out his profile and saved it. Nadel was one of the reasons why I decided to pursue a photojournalism career at the age of 32 with no background in photography. I quit my job as a high-school teacher and earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, where I have worked for five years as a university photographer.

Although I haven’t completed work at the level of Nadel, I nonetheless love documentary photography and integrate photojournalism into my public-relations position whenever possible. I also teach two classes in the Missouri School of Journalism, where I encourage students to make good stories.

The piece about Nadel in 2004 helped change my life, and consequently the lives of my students, for the better. I have enormous respect for his work and hope he continues to make a difference in the world with his photos.

Shane Epping (formerly Conterez), AB’95

Columbia, Missouri

 

War without tears

The letter from Stephen J. Breckley, MBA’68, John R. Flanery, MBA’06, and William P. McCoach, MBA’75, in your Sept–Oct/12 issue (in response to a July–Aug/12 profile of economist Austan Goolsbee) demonstrates an attitude that is distressingly common among Chicago MBAs. If they were taught that we should have done the opposite of what the Obama administration did, e.g., have no stimulus—though all economic evidence demonstrates that without the stimulus package we would now be in a major depression, and indeed that the stimulus was if anything far too small—then they were miseducated.

The paper “Beginnings” by the distinguished late economist Hyman Minsky, SB’41, may provide the best insight into what happened to economics at Chicago. He wrote, “Today, economics at the University of Chicago is associated with a special methodological, ideological, and doctrinal position. It was not true of Chicago during the years I was there. The department had room for radicals like [Oskar R.] Lange, liberals like [Paul] Douglas, middle of the roaders like [Jacob] Viner as well as the beginnings of a conservative group in [Frank] Knight, [Henry] Simons, and [Lloyd] Mints. Furthermore, even those who were most clearly the intellectual ancestors of the present Chicago School—Frank Knight and Henry Simons—were not, at least in the understanding of this young student, as rigid and ideologically hard as today’s ‘Chicago types.’ If we used Thatcherian language, the Chicago conservatives of the late 1930s would be ‘wets.’ Economics at Chicago in the late 1930s and early 1940s was open, rigorous, and serious. Any department which ran the spectrum from Knight to Lange had to be intellectually open.”

Indeed, Milton Friedman, AM’33, himself said that when he arrived at the University of Chicago in the 1930s he encountered a “vibrant intellectual atmosphere of a kind that I had never dreamed existed”; yet his supposed followers today rejoice in the destruction of that atmosphere.

Robert Michaelson, SB’66, AM’73

Evanston, Illinois

 

The feeling was mutual

Thank you for including a snippet in the Core (Editor’s Notes, “Wish You Were Here,” July–Aug/12) about Michael Jones, AM’83, PhD’88, AM’12, who recently resigned as associate dean of the College. Some of my fondest memories at the University see me sitting opposite Jones in his office discussing, philosophizing, or simply chatting about the day’s events. Jones didn’t have any of the egotism or pomposity that one would expect from a man in his position. Despite the demanding nature of his work, his door was always open to me, and he never failed to make me feel welcome, valued, equal. As his student, I had thought that something about his distinguished demeanor demanded respect; in time I realized that it was his respect of me as an individual that made him so worthy of my respect. My years at the University would not have been the same without his sage guidance and genuine support.

Elodie Guez, AB’01

Fort Myers, Florida

 

Free-market morality

Contrary to D. J. Brennan, AB’80, MFA’02, (Letters, Sept–Oct/12), I believe the American sense of free-market capitalism does indeed have a moral foundation, in that it inherently respects and protects the personhood, abilities, rights, contracts, and responsibilities of individuals. No other system on the planet does, or ever has done, as much or as well, morally or otherwise.

American free-market capitalism’s moral foundation is broad and deep. It assumes free and enforceable contracts within a framework of law that also limits and punishes the use of fraud and force in contracts. It assumes Declaration-declared, Constitution-protected rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness defined and decided by each individual, limited only by preventing fraud, force, and the suppression of others’ rights.

American free-market capitalism believes individuals are fully capable of making their own decisions, judgments, and contracts in that framework—and of living with or personally changing the consequences thereof. Facilitating such freedoms and enforcing such responsibilities are in fact high moral choices. Interfering with them is the opposite.

Luigi Zingales’s recommendations appear to support liberty by increasing competition, transparency, and accountability (“On the Merits,” UChicago Journal, July–Aug/12). His suggestions appear to decrease the corruptive and sometimes covert power of entrenched interests to covertly determine or dominate.

Brennan’s view of capitalism is reductive, as are her views of morality and success. Her red-herring canard, the debunked “Pinto scandal,” is a straw man—“capitalism” as solely cost-benefit analysis limited to a producer.

The American free-market capitalism ideal treats every individual the same, with identical rights. It limits rewards only by how much others find your work relevant and valuable, a useful definition of merit and merit-based success, and it enables unlimited attempts to create and deliver such work. Its morality is untainted by preference or prejudice: equal rights, with independent rewards based on results.  It offers unlimited opportunity bounded only by your willingness to work smarter and harder until others recognize and reward its value. It is unique in world history, drawing immigrant millions.

Zingales’s suggested reforms might restore real effectiveness to that ideal, retaining the principles and framework described above, Ms. Brennan’s cavils (and muddled misunderstandings) notwithstanding.

Jeff Levinger (parent)

San Francisco

 

Eight legs bad

Per Eric Posner (“OctoPOTUS?” Sept–Oct/12), the Madisonian separation of powers in government is a “historical relic.” Posner ignores the fact that real restraint of the executive by popular sentiment is a chimera. Government secrecy enables the president to manage a narrative supporting his policies, no matter how harmful they might be. Is there a genuine popular consensus supporting illegal detention, targeted killings, torture, warrantless surveillance, secret wars, or an immigration program that includes deliberate non-enforcement of laws, all of which are current government policies? 

If government seeks to “foster security and prosperity,” then the powerful executive has failed miserably as White House policies have made the entire world less safe while the standard of living for most Americans (possibly excluding University of Chicago law professors) has fallen sharply. Posner approves of torture, which he calls “coercive interrogation,” in a crisis and argues that the freedom to commit war crimes is desirable because it can serve as a deterrent.

I suppose Posner would respond with a version of “it can’t happen here.”  But the truth is that it can happen anywhere, even if a genocidal dictatorship is unlikely to spring up in the United States. Guantanamo is real and Jose Padilla is in prison. The restraints imposed by the US Constitution offer a legal recourse against a President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney declaring a state of emergency and deciding that whole categories of citizens would benefit from being shipped off to reeducation camps.

Executive primacy is by its very nature a dangerous zero-sum game, with political power accruing to the president taken away from the American people, the judiciary, Congress, and the states. The Posner formula enables unwise decisions by the White House to become the unchallengeable norm, while Posner personally provides intellectual legitimacy to a set of bad ideas and even criminal behavior. Granting carte blanche to someone who winds up in the Oval Office and is restrained only by the limits of his own popularity should be seen as a threat to every American, not as a necessary or inevitable advance in governance.

Phil Giraldi, AB’68

Purcellville, Virginia

 

Eric Posner’s expression of faith in public opinion as a check on presidents evinces no concern with the sources of that opinion. We find no echoes of the views of Robert Hutchins and Learned Hand about concentrated control of the media, perhaps because it is much easier for Mr. Posner to access our few significant newspapers than for other Chicagoans with less well-rewarded opinions.

In the long run, there will be no “freedom from fear” or public opinion if the executive can detain or do violence at will; checks on the executive, not electoral ceremonies, are the distinguishing mark of free societies. This was once seen more clearly than it is now. “Even in England,” Ambassador Eric Phipps mused in the wake of the Night of the Long Knives, “death may come on a summer day, but not dispatched from Downing Street.”

Nor is it clear that most citizens believe “that they benefit from having most policy being made at the federal level.” The nationalization of moral and social issues, in which academic lawyers have played too great a part, has produced a society, economy, and polity that are neither functional nor contented.

George W. Liebmann, JD’63

Baltimore

 

Dismissing concerns about US presidential law breaking as unjustified “tyrannophobia,” Eric Posner does not discuss why anyone should care to uphold the law if presidents can break it with impunity. Here is an idea: now that the rule of law is no more and has been replaced with a mere spectacle of the law—as various scholars and thinkers have been pointing out for some time now, and as Posner indicates (though he seems more interested in seeking ways to justify this new state of affairs)—it might be appropriate to rename the law school the School of the History of Law so that it refocuses on the problem of just what was the rule of law, and whether or not anyone should care.

Magnus Fiskesjö, AM’94, PhD’00

Ithaca, New York

 

Are objections to violations of constitutional restrictions on presidential power merely to be dismissed as “tyrannophobia,” as Eric Posner does? Tyranny is in the eye of the beholder. A lot depends on which side of it you are on. Tyrannophobia from the sending end might seem like tyrannophilia on the receiving end. Is the interaction between president and public more effective than a check and balance?

Before the U of C community dismisses anything as tyrannophobia, it would do well to read James Madison in Federalist No. 37 on one class readily uniting and oppressing another, creating a state of nature in which weaker individuals are not protected against the stronger. And as stronger individuals are induced by the insecurity of their positions to submit to a government that protects the weaker as well as the stronger, so are more powerful classes. Yes, it is in the eye of the beholder.

“Sic semper tyrannis,” shouted John Wilkes Booth as he leaped to the stage of Ford’s Theatre. Lincoln is not commonly thought to be a tyrant, but he did abolish habeas corpus, shut down newspapers, and enact conscription, among other tyrannical acts.

Not that conscription was abolished forever. It was reenacted in WW I and upheld in an atrocious Supreme Court decision whose author, Edward Douglass White, has a classroom named for him at the U of C Law School.

There are other passages in the Federalist papers that show the army was to be composed of paid professionals, not conscripts. There is compulsory military service, but under the militia clauses, not the army clause.

There are a lot of tyrannophobes who consider private firearms a check on tyranny. Their notion is ably rebutted by a paragraph in Federalist No. 28. A paragraph in Federalist No. 46 shows what the security of a free state is, and it is not interaction between the president and the people. The debate on the Second Amendment says nothing about private firearms, but rather anticipated a current tyrannophilia.

Bill Wendt, MBA’76

Long Beach, Indiana

 

Mink remembered

It was good to be reminded of the remarkable career in the US Congress of Patsy Takemoto Mink, JD’51, a University of Chicago Law School classmate of ours from Hawaii (Legacy, Sept–Oct/12). Among her achievements was the development of much-acclaimed Title IX programs that opened up opportunities dramatically for women in this country.

Patsy’s service in the House of Representatives (beginning in 1964) included placements in the Congressional Record of various publications of mine criticizing our State Department’s support of the colonels who seized the Greek government in April 1967. Almost a score of such articles were thus placed by, among others, Patsy and her colleague Abner J. Mikva, JD’51, another distinguished member of our Law School class. One consequence of all this was to make me seem far more influential in Washington than I have ever been, which earned me the distinction of being declared persona non grata by the colonels (the only American thus honored by them, so far as I know), thereby barring me from Greece for almost a decade.

One serious consequence of our official folly in Greece (between 1967 and 1974) was that it allowed the colonels, who were remarkably inept and hence in need of a dramatic “victory,” to make a desperate effort: to take over a then-independent Cyprus. The Turks moved at once to take over a good part of that island for themselves, thereby poisoning Greek-Turkish and NATO relations for four decades now. To read more, visit my blog.

George Anastaplo, AB’48, JD’51, PhD’64

Chicago

 

Thank you for this fully realized portrait of Patsy Mink as a “tenacious and determined politician” by Richard Mertens. Although our paths crossed a couple of times during our parallel activities in the women’s movement, I did not know Patsy personally. I was extremely grateful for her awareness of how important it was to lend her strong voice to social issues such as the passage of Title IX. It was unfortunate that this bill was renamed the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act only after her death. But I especially appreciated her outspoken (and, yes, “abrasive”) public stance on numerous civil-rights and women’s issues from the early 1960s, when Asian American women were not even visible on the political horizon. Furthermore, hundreds of women applauded her courage in her class-action suit against the University of Chicago Lying-In Hospital and the drug company Eli Lilly. She was most effective just because she was not a “warm and fuzzy” “Japanese doll.” She was truly one of a kind.

Mitsuye Yamada, AM’53

Irvine, California

 

Nonaction figure

As founding vice president of Students for Violent Nonaction (SVNA), I read with great amusement the Web Exclusive by Katherine Muhlenkamp “Extra, Extra …,” (August 27, 2012). SVNA was founded in 1966–67 in a Hitchcock Hall dorm room by a small group led by my first-year roommate Steve Landsman, X’69, a.k.a. Frank Malbranche—undisputedly the creative force behind the group. It provided an avenue of relief from the rigors of the Core curriculum through tongue-in-cheek counterpoints to the über-serious student political groups like Students for Nonviolent Action  that were so prevalent on campus in the late ’60s. SVNA’s inaugural event was Bring Back Our Night, when we protested the switch of the streetlights along 57th Street from cool, soothing blue-and-white mercury-vapor lamps to much brighter, orange sodium vapor.

We indeed did stage the Pike for Peace on Hull Court gate, the Flush for Freedom, and the Nude Swim-in at the Ida Noyes pool. The first annual Lascivious Costume Ball was also an SVNA-inspired event that became a campus tradition. The Flush for Freedom, held during the inauguration following the 1968 presidential elections, was picked up by Jack Mabley at Chicago’s American, who railed against the commie kids who were supposedly trying to subvert the city’s water supply—one of our proudest moments. The plan was for everyone to select a commode, transistor radio in hand, and to flush at “so help me God” at the end of Nixon’s oath of office. Dutifully manning my station on the 3rd floor of Hitchcock, I flushed on cue and heard a loud groan, accompanied by an anemic swirl of water. In contrast, my dorm-mates on the lower floors were surprised by a faux Old Faithful shooting from the toilets, soaking anyone too slow to get out of the way. No doubt Tricky Dick had conspired with the CIA and the Chicago Public Works department to subvert our righteous protest.

Bill King, AB’69

Highland Park, Illinois

 

Bettelheim appreciated

When Bruno Bettelheim began teaching at the University, his objective was to help students understand themselves better by questioning why they answered his questions the way they did. It is true, as Frances Barrish, PhB’48, said (Letters, Sept–Oct/12), that many dropped out of his class—because this made some uncomfortable. This was OK with him because he believed that no one should presume to affect the psyches of others until they became acquainted with their own unconscious motivations.

When I returned to the Department of Education a number of years later, his class was held in the auditorium. Students were willing to take a risk because he was so intensely interesting and they learned so much.

As the first UChicago student to be hired after he took over the Orthogenic School in 1944, I still thank him for the good life I have led.

Jean O’Leary Brown, PhB’45, X’52

West Frankfort, Illinois

 

Tribute to a friend

Our dear friend Joe Walsh, AB’85, left this world on June 6, 2012. He was very active on campus as president of Student Government and also involved in Blackfriars, acting in various productions. Marcus Asner, AB’85; Doug Shapiro, AB’85; and I are organizing an effort to honor Joe with a gift that supports the arts at the University of Chicago. We plan to use memorial gifts to name a seat or two in the Logan Center performance hall. With a gift of $2,500 we can dedicate one seat. These gifts are used to support UChicago’s endowed Student Performance Fund. If you are interested in making a memorial gift, please call Josh Levine at 773.702.0885 or mail a check made out to the the University of Chicago to Josh at 401 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 900, Chicago, IL, 60611.

Joan Spoerl, AB’85

Cleveland Heights, Ohio

 

Department of Corrections

In “For the Record” (Sept–Oct/12), we misnamed University Professor Son Thanh Dam. In “Notes,” we incorrectly reported that the software startup of Jonathan Hirsch, AB’07, is called Synapse. The company’s name is Syapse. We regret the errors.

 

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