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‘What Kind Of Nation?’

August 22, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 34

In scanning the July 18 issue of C&EN, for some reason I stopped on the From the Editor section to read Rudy Baum’s rant entitled “What Kind of Nation?” (page 3).

Once again Baum has used his bully pulpit to throw out his clearly one-sided view of a very controversial issue (control of government spending). I find it interesting to see him marginalize anyone who opposes his viewpoint that socialism is the direction in which the U.S. should be heading. Clearly, anyone who is opposed to reeling in our out-of-control government spending must want “guns over health care,” or at least that is what Baum would have us believe.

Although the U.S. may still be the richest country in the world and may not be broke, as Baum states, the so-called experts warn that our current state of government spending cannot be sustained without major changes. It seems that Baum believes that such changes should include increasing public funding to support his pet projects, among others. I suppose Baum thinks that such funding would be readily available in a more socialist type of government such as found in the European Union. He may do well to study up on the financial problems that the EU is now trying to deal with as a result of citizenry who believe that the government should provide, no matter if the cupboards are bare.

I, too, agree that it’s a shame our government cannot fund every good program, but such an idea is an impossible panacea. The reality that our government and society seem to need to learn is how to live within our means, but I guess such a suggestion makes me a gun-totin’ American.

By John Thomas Bradshaw
Gorham, Maine

I am so tired of Baum’s political editorials. Apparently, he wants to cut nothing in the federal budget. His statement: “The U.S. is not broke. It is still the richest nation on Earth” is surely astounding to me. The federal government borrows 42 cents of each dollar it spends. Our national debt of $14 trillion is as large as our gross domestic product. Get real, Rudy. Our country is broke.

Baum talks about food safety and cutting some of the regulators’ budgets. Of the 48 million cases of disease per 438 billion eating events that he mentions, how many of those were from careless handling of food at home versus food contaminated in the supply chain? As stated, our food supply is 99.99% safe. Yes, I accept 99.99% safe as pretty darn safe.

By Wallace Embry
Columbia, Tenn.

Baum’s editorial was apropos and entirely on-target. If only we could insist that our representatives in government make decisions based on the sort of facts he cites and that they validly apply logic. Of course, if that happened Baum would not get the torrent of letters of outrage that this piece will certainly bring.

Thanks very much; keep up the good work.

By William M. Riggs
Biddeford, Maine

When I open a copy of C&EN, I hope to be reading early news on chemistry-related developments in the sciences. I am getting tired of reading Baum’s editorials on politics and social issues. If he wants to talk about the U.S. budget, it should be about how it pertains to chemical R&D. And if a chemist wants to come out of the closet, I hope that it is to announce a new discovery in chemistry. Please save that type of editorial material for the newspapers.

By Gary J. Banuk
Hanson, Mass.

In his editorial, Baum asks: “What Kind of Nation?” I had a good college friend who was in graduate school pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology. He stated that the two of us were part of the 10% of quality Americans who were worthy and constructive. At the time, I did not pay much attention to this.

I have discovered, however, that today’s Americans have a $65 billion illegal drug habit and consume about 730 million gal of alcoholic beverages. Also, it is a fact that 1% of our population owns 90% of our nation’s assets. It is now apparent to me that a great number of Americans are so stoned, drunk, or prejudiced that they will vote for members of Congress who promise to make the rich even richer, just to remove a well-qualified, but black, President.

By Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village, Calif.

Baum asks what kind of nation we are becoming. Unfortunately, he (no less than every other person) then launches into a defense of federal spending on his personal “hot button” issues. Such an approach is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst.

The only intellectually defensible way to envision the nation in which we will live is to answer a single question: How much of the national production (commonly referred to as gross domestic product or GDP) should remain with those who earned it for spending at their discretion and how much should be taken by the government for spending at its discretion? This question does not require any particular position on the national debt, on spending priorities, or on left-versus-right politics. Rather, it simply asks for a determination of how much government (versus private) spending we want.

Never mind Baum’s obvious antipathy for Milton Friedman, whose work highlights the historical fact that economic freedom and political freedom are not severable. For more than two full centuries during which the U.S. has grown to dominate the world in every area of human endeavor, annual federal government spending has averaged under 20% of the national annual GDP. Anyone advocating federal spending above that level better come with overwhelmingly convincing evidence to support their position.

By Bernard H. White

Baum’s editorial states that “citizens of Germany, France, and the U.K.—all nations with social welfare systems that are more developed than that of the U.S.—are as free as U.S. citizens are.” Those are debatable views, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume those are views held by many U.S. citizens.

In his effort to be balanced, the only citation Baum gives for where U.S. citizens have more freedom is that “we have more guns.” With all of the quantifiable metrics available, why would Baum choose number of guns? I expect such an ideological and biased view to be the premise of an editorial in the New York Times but not in a preeminent science publication.

By Terrence P. Sherlock
Pemberton, N.J.

Baum expresses his dissatisfaction with the care taken by U.S. elected representatives for a balanced budget and also rebukes the general taste of Americans, implying that fewer guns would bring a better health care system. The editor-in-chief of an American Chemical Society publication feels shame for the U.S. while praising France, Germany, and the U.K. for their more developed social welfare systems.

With all due respect for Baum’s emotions and political agenda, I would like to direct his attention to the fact that all the mentioned countries, despite their better systems, have much lower per capita GDP than the U.S.

Borrowing Baum’s logic, I might state that more guns increase GDP.

By Thomas Guttmann


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