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Saturday, March 3, 2012

James Q. Wilson

The great political scientist James Q. Wilson passed away this week. The Wall Street Journal offers some passages from op-eds he wrote for the paper:
"A Cure for Selfishness," March 26, 1997:
Perhaps the most powerful antidote to unfettered selfishness is property rights. If we are grazing cattle, we will conserve the land if we own it. If we are catching lobsters off the Maine coast, we can restrict over-fishing by allocating space to groups who informally "own" each space. If we want to conserve elephants, we should let people own the elephants. If we wish to water our rice in Bali, we do better if each village has ownership in a part of the water. If we want to conserve our country's oil reserves, we do better if the reserves are owned by firms than if the government "controls" the whole deposit.
"Killing Terri," March 21, 2005:
[The] moral imperative should be that medical care cannot be withheld from a person who is not brain dead and who is not at risk for dying from an untreatable disease in the near future. To do otherwise makes us recall Nazi Germany where retarded people and those with serious disabilities were "euthanized" (that is, killed). We hear around the country echoes of this view in the demands that doctors be allowed to participate, as they do in Oregon, in physician-assisted suicide, whereby doctors can end the life of patients who request death and have less than six months to live. This policy endorses the right of a person to end his or her life with medical help. It is justified by the alleged success of this policy in the Netherlands.

But it has not been a success in the Netherlands. In that country there have been well over 1,000 doctor-induced deaths among patients who had not requested death, and in a large fraction of those cases the patients were sufficiently competent to have made the request had they wished.
Keeping people alive is the goal of medicine. We can only modify that policy in the case of patients for whom death is imminent and where all competent family members believe that nothing can be gained by extending life for a few more days. This is clearly not the case with Terri Schiavo. Indeed, her death by starvation may take weeks. Meanwhile, her parents are pleading for her life....

"Christmas and Christianity," Dec. 24, 2004:
Those who are alarmed by the extent of religious belief in this country have roused themselves to make the so-called wall of separation between church and state both higher and firmer. . . . They would be well advised to let matters alone. We have been a free country even though "In God We Trust" is printed on our dollar bills, even though sessions of Congress begin with a prayer, and even though chaplains paid for by our tax dollars are part of our military forces. Our freedom does not depend on eliminating these acknowledgments of the power of religion; it relies instead on the fact that for many generations we have embraced a secular government operating in a religious culture.
That embrace will be weakened, not strengthened, by silly attacks on religiosity, stimulating the spiritual to question the seriousness of people who profess a concern for civil liberties.