The Corner

Mailbag, Late October Edition

It has been quite a while since I’ve had the time to do one of these. Here are a few emails I’ve gotten over the last few months, along with my responses. I’ve excerpted the nub of the emails in some cases, and made some light edits, including adding links to the articles the emailers were writing about when I can identify them. They’re in no particular order.

#1: Gender Pay Gap

In light of your views on the gender pay gap, do you have anything to say about the new AAUW study showing that there is one even among recent college graduates who majored in the same subject?

Not really. I’ll subcontract that out to Andrew Biggs.

#2: Abortion

As you know I lean to your side of the abortion wars. [This is from a regular correspondent.] just wondering what you make of this argument I heard from a friend: Yes, he says, abortion takes a human life, but science can’t tell us whether that life counts as a person. Since it doesn’t we should choose the best answer. If we answer that there’s a person immediately after conception the results are unacceptable, like banning abortion even in the case of rape. So we shouldn’t draw the line at conception. . . .

Your friend is right that science doesn’t tell us the moral status of a human embryo or fetus. He is wrong to think, first, that we have to “draw a line” among human organisms to determine which have a right not to be deliberately killed when acting peaceably; we should draw a circle around all human beings and grant them all that status. He is wrong, second, to see our task as deciding the moral truth of the matter as opposed to discerning it. 

#3: Money

Your whole theory assumes that the Fed can set the level of NGDP by changing the money supply. If NGDP is “too low,” the Fed can raise it by raising the money supply. . . . The assumption is wrong. There is no correlation between nominal income and the money supply. Just look at the data. . . .

I don’t need to look at the data to reject this line of argument. To see why it doesn’t work, stop thinking about NGDP. Think about inflation instead. Most people agree that all else equal, a larger money supply means a higher price level. But let’s say you have a Fed that perfectly hit a zero inflation target every year by adjusting the money supply to respond to changes in real economic growth and the velocity of money. The path of the money supply would then depend entirely on economic growth and velocity, while inflation would stay zero. The money supply would thus be entirely uncorrelated with inflation because the Fed was hitting its target so well. Yet it would still remain true that the Fed’s adjustment of the money supply had affected the price level.

Same thing with NGDP. To the extent the Fed stabilizes its growth, as in the 1990s, the money supply won’t correlate with it.

#4: Joe Biden

Your article is nothing more than particsan garbage. From which India caste system did you make it out of to believe you can write such political trite.

Thanks for your feedback, Patricia H. Rigler.

#5: Governmental benefits and the electorate

[Probably in response to this article and some follow-up posts.] I couldn’t tell whether you’re denying that the expansion of government benefits has made voters more attached to the programs they’re benefiting from?

In other words, are voters more attached to the idea of government provision for the elderly than they would be in an alternative universe where Social Security and Medicare did not exist? Yes, they are. It would be foolish to deny that. What I deny is that recent political trends line up with recent trends in the expansion of government benefits. Voters are more complicated than that.

#6: Me


You show your political prejudices like red ink on white silk.

I certainly hope so.

#7: Religious liberty and the HHS Mandate

How far would you take this assertion of “religious freedom”? Do peyote-smoking Native Americans get a religious exemption from drug laws?

Well, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I would say they do get exemptions from federal laws. That is, after all, the exact fact pattern that gave rise to the law. The formula in that act seems pretty reasonable to me. It doesn’t say that people can just do anything they want, regardless of law to the contrary, by invoking a religiously-formed conscience that requires their disobedience to the law. You can’t perform human sacrifices because your conscience agrees with the Aztecs. But the government has to have a good reason to override your conscience: It has to be serving a compelling governmental interest in the least restrictive means possible. The HHS mandate doesn’t come close to meeting that standard.

Or look at conscientious objection in the military. We don’t have a rule that says that pacifists can’t be taxed to support the military. That would plainly be unworkable. We do, however, make accommodations, as we should.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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