Have It Their Way
In Thomas Frank’s Easy Chair column on low wages for employees of the fast-food industry [“Home of the Whopper,” November], a reference to the plantation owned by a corporation that also operates several Hardee’s franchises was particularly evocative. In the 1970s, after the publication of Time on the Cross, an economic evaluation of slavery in the United States, there was a debate over the degree of wage expropriation in the institution. The authors calculated that slaves had “earned” roughly 90 percent of what their labor had produced through the provisions of lifetime upkeep and expenses. Whether or not this is true, it cannot mitigate the wretchedness of slavery.
I would be willing to guess that if someone did an econometric study on fast-food workers today, the result would make a 10 percent level of expropriation seem paltry. Capitalism is exploitative. Let’s hope this article serves as a cri de coeur.
George M. Johnson
Deer Lodge, Mont.
Frank did a good job of exposing America’s lamentable love affair with fast food, but he missed an opportunity to pose a basic and unasked question about American wage policy: Why not a maximum wage? To be sure, the brigands of economic barbarism would cry socialism, but it could provide a real solution to what we so benignly refer to as our nation’s “wealth disparity.”
Old Orchard Beach, Maine
Going for a Ride
In the spring of 1981, I had an experience that might have interested David Sullivan [“The Man Who Saves You from Yourself,” Nathaniel Rich, Report, November]. I was twenty years old and had just moved to a small town in the Hudson Valley, about ninety miles north of New York City. One day I hitchhiked to work and got a ride from two people in a white Econoline van. There were no seats behind the driver, so I rolled around on the floor. My transporters said they went to school in Barrytown, at the Unification Theological Seminary, and they invited me to come to a social gathering they were hosting. The whole time I was thinking, “Oh my God! If my mother only knew that I just got picked up hitchhiking by Moonies!” They were strange, but they did get me to work on time. I gave them two dollars, did not attend the recruitment gathering, and never heard from them again.
A Modest Proposal
Jeff Madrick’s excellent Anti-Economist column on child poverty [“Problem Number One,” October] neglects to mention one simple solution: reproductive planning. The low value assigned to human life in this country is not just a consequence of the smug ignorance of the Romneys of the world but a result of too many people on the planet. All would-be parents — including the young, impoverished, and vulnerable — require awareness of and access to the means to decide when and under what circumstances they will start their families. Such efforts are linked to healthier, better-adjusted children and parents.
As a sixty-six-year-old woman who hopes to make it to one hundred (for a start), I object to Bee Wilson’s wish that even if we could defer death, “we’d have enough sense to decline” [“At Death’s Door,” Review, November]. Why would we lack sense if we had such zest for living that we wanted to live on and on? Wilson writes, “An effective anti-aging elixir is a dystopian prospect in a world of rising population and scarce resources; it could plunge billions into lives of poverty.” She overlooks the fact that a world scientifically advanced enough to come up with an effective anti-aging elixir might well be scientifically advanced enough to avert resource shortage and ecological collapse. Even if that did not happen, increasing the availability of birth control and distributing the world’s resources more equitably would be a far more humane solution to poverty than telling old people that they should be willing to die in order to make life easier for the young.
Felicia Nimue Ackerman
A Female Thing
In her essay on Morgellons disease [“The Devil’s Bait,” September], Leslie Jamison casts doubt on the skin disorder’s validity in a familiar way. For ten years I headed a support group for sufferers of emerging illnesses, and although Morgellons wasn’t among them, I recognize a pattern in the way the patients Jamison writes about are treated. The medical establishment has a long history of being skeptical of health problems suffered by women.
Multiple sclerosis, for example, was treated as female hysteria as late as the 1950s — even when victims became blind or unable to walk. Such illnesses as chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia have all also been regarded as hysterical symptoms. These women deserved better, and the sufferers of Morgellons, the majority of whom are female, do, too.