Marilynne Robinson’s essay [“Is Poverty Necessary?” June] describes the quest for understanding that drove her to study the great political economists, culminating in her discovery of the contributions made by Henry George. I followed a similar path years ago, and I have attempted to inspire others to do the same through my own teaching and writing.
“It would require less than the fingers of the two hands to enumerate those who from Plato down rank with him,” the philosopher John Dewey said of Henry George. Yet today George’s theories are ignored, and his remarkable body of work has been marginalized in academic economics, a discipline that was corrupted by special-interest funding while still in its infancy. I recommend serious engagement with George’s work to all who read Robinson’s article and want to learn more.
Cherry Hill, N.J.
“Is poverty necessary?” Marilynne Robinson asks us in her insightful essay. The answer, of course, is no. But capitalism, left to its own devices, makes poverty a certainty. Companies will always minimize the cost of inputs necessary for the production of goods and services, labor chief among them. In order to keep inequality at a minimum, we must continually update the rules under which our economy operates. Without this sort of oversight, we would still have child labor and workplaces far more dangerous than those we have today.
We periodically write laws that forbid certain practices and that set restrictions on others. These laws are never generated in a vacuum; they come about in response to effective and concerted political pressure.
The Fight for $15 campaign is a great example of a social movement attempting to apply precisely this sort of pressure. The movement is gaining momentum across the country, and I am hopeful that before too long we’ll see a $15 nationwide minimum wage enshrined into law. As Robinson’s essay reminds us, the needs of low-wage workers are just as important as those of other Americans.
St. Paul, Minn.
Lionel Shriver writes that in order to reach gender parity—in the New York Times letters section, jazz, or any other domain—the arbiters of good taste will have to accept inferior work by women [“Fifty-Fifty Follies,” Easy Chair, June]. But with what evidence does she make this claim? Those who persevere in a field of endeavor from which their peers have been dissuaded seem likely to be bolder or more interesting than their counterparts who face fewer obstacles.
Shriver also fails to acknowledge the long-term impact that more female representation in male-dominated fields can have. As more women see a possible place for themselves, their growing ranks would eliminate the need to “discriminate” against men in the future.
Moreover, her dismissal of the factors that might cause women not to write letters to the editor is frankly ridiculous. Every reason listed, each of which she mocks, is supported by data. Women do spend many more hours than men taking care of children and performing other domestic tasks (often in addition to a forty-hour workweek); women are discouraged from speaking up through many subtle and not-so-subtle cues over the course of their lives; and women do regularly face threats of rape and death for publishing their thoughts. The only reason I took the time to write this letter is that it was the one way to lower my blood pressure after reading her piece.
New York City
Andrew Cockburn’s latest [“The Military-Industrial Virus,” Letter from Washington, June] is a frank account of the machinations of the defense establishment. Rather than faithfully steward our tax dollars or legitimately prioritize national security, many senior military officers and members of Congress opt for more short-term and self-serving goals—securing contracts that benefit their home districts, for instance, or laying the groundwork for careers as lobbyists. Meanwhile, the defense contractors can feel confident the money will come, because it always does.
So far, no politician has addressed this alliance with the necessary intensity or candor. This is especially troubling in an era in which more than half of every dollar Congress appropriates is spent on defense.
The huge sums devoted to the latest, often poorly conceived weapons technologies result in dwindling resources for the existing fleet. Morale suffers when there’s less time to train and fewer spare parts. Under the circumstances, one has to wonder whether decision-makers are defending the country or the status quo.
In Andrew Cockburn’s otherwise enlightening article on U.S. military spending and corruption, he writes, “True, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Tulsi Gabbard among the Democratic presidential contenders are campaigning for cuts in defense spending, but they all have spotty records when it comes to votes on military budget bills.”
I’m sure that settling for the word “spotty” was easier than actually elucidating their voting records in detail, but the description is misleading. Medea Benjamin and I researched the issue for a recent article in Common Dreams, and we found that Sanders has voted against military spending bills 84 percent of the time, while Gabbard and Warren have done so only about a third of the time. I don’t think grouping them together under the term “spotty” does justice to this distinction.
Gabbard is doing a great service by placing the dangers of unrestrained militarism at the center of her campaign, but Sanders is the only candidate who regularly votes against the record military spending that makes this militarism possible.
Nicolas J. S. Davies
North Miami, Fla.