Minerva, Chapter 5


O'Toole glanced around the small, makeshift church as Mason spoke. The teenagers and younger children were hot and bored. A brother and sister argued until their mother hushed them. The adults, most of them still dressed from work, politely paid attention.

''and that is why, paradoxical as it may sound, minimum wage laws and other regulations are actually used by labor unions to drive wages up for white workers, while at the same time they create inner city unemployment by making unskilled labor artificially expensive.' Mason scanned the crowd and saw many cynical faces. 'Think of it this way: Suppose the government decided to place a $10 surtax on every purchase people made at McDonalds. Would they be able to sell as many Big Macs? Of course not, just like teenagers with no job experience can't get hired, since their labor isn't worth the minimum wage. What do you think such a surtax would do to the prices at Burger King? They'd go up, just like union wages go up because of labor laws. If McDonalds is forced to charge $12 or so for a burger, you can bet that Burger King will raise its prices too. It's the same with union labor.

'So if you want to help poor workers, the best thing to do is take politics out of the system. Let everyone get a job who's willing to work. Yes, they'll start out with low wages. But those with initiative will quickly gain skills and earn promotions, or move to a better job. The way it is now, unskilled workers can't even get their foot in the door. Yes, if they could get a job, all of the government's mandated goodies would be nice. But your work benefits, mandated or not, are simply paid for out of your paycheck. Businesses don't hire you if you're going to lose them money. Here, as elsewhere, the politicians make wonderful speeches, but in the end implement policies that benefit their rich corporate contributors, to the detriment of disenfranchised workers.'

O'Toole looked at the congregation. As the only other white in the room, he was conscious of the reception to the professor's strong opinions. O'Toole was particularly worried that Mason was coming across as extremely na've, or worse, extremely patronizing. But Mason was at least doing an excellent job in appearing earnest, O'Toole noted with approval. Of course the introduction by the Reverend, explaining that Mason had been his 'favorite teacher of all time,' had certainly been helpful. Even so, it was Mason himself who established his sincerity (if not accuracy), by constantly stressing that he shared the goals of the church members, and merely disagreed with the conventional solutions.

'And finally, we turn to our nation's horrible War on Drugs, or War on Some Drugs as they say.' Mason paused as the room chuckled. 'Now I'm sure many of you have heard what I am about to say in one form or another, but I think it bears repeating: Yes, illegal narcotics are potentially dangerous, and drug abuse is a tragedy. I respect any organization that educates the public about these issues, and I expect all good parents to teach their children to respect their bodies and their minds.

'However, it is immoral and simply impractical to order men with guns to eliminate drug use. The government sends heavily armed agents into your neighborhoods, with the authority to break down doors and shoot anyone who frightens them. These heavily armed agents will then kidnap at gunpoint any drug dealers they find, holding them prisoner in a small room for decades. After all this, of course the drug trade is violent. It is the government'the biggest gang in the world'which has introduced violence into the drug industry. For those of you familiar with American history, you know that gangsters shot each other over moonshine during Prohibition. But nowadays, when the production and sale of alcohol is perfectly legal, it would be absurd for the CEO of Budweiser to order a drive-by shooting of the board members of Heineken.

'I realize this seems cold-hearted.' Mason thought he had captured the interest of several men in the audience, but he could tell many of the women were horrified by his remarks. 'But you must face reality. Yes, it would certainly solve many problems if we could snap our fingers and eliminate drug abuse. But we simply can't do that. Even if we executed all convicted drug dealers, millions of Americans would still find a way to support their habit. Think about what we're actually saying: Our present solution to inner city drug use is to give a bunch of young white guys guns.

'Oh, perhaps you're worried about drug-related crimes? Well, if you don't want people robbing old ladies to finance a cocaine habit, the absolute worst thing to do is drive up the street price of cocaine by a factor of fifty. Yet this is exactly what our drug policy aims to do, to make drugs incredibly expensive.'

Mason glanced at his watch. He had to wrap up his talk.

'In conclusion, I would like to thank you, and Pastor Jones, for this opportunity. As a group who has suffered injustices both historical and current, the African American community does not need to be told the evil and hypocrisy of which our very own government is capable. There is nothing magical about democracy if many of the voters are ignorant and bigoted. What I have tried to sketch for you today is the argument that the same cruelty, dishonesty, and injustice that your community has experienced in the form of police brutality are characteristic of all government actions. You realize that 'the system' doesn't work when it comes to foreign policy or law enforcement. So why do you think it's any better at curing poverty or educating children?

'The challenges your community faces will only be solved when the racist government removes the remaining shackles from your people, and allows individuals to improve their own lives and others' through peaceful means. Thank you and have a wonderful night.'

Mason squinted his face into a cheerful smile and left the podium. As per his arrangement with Jones, he wasn't going to field questions from the audience. His purpose had been to plant a framework in the minds of the young teenagers who were only half-listening. The older he got, the more Mason believed that longer investment periods were just as productive in the field of ideas as they were in the production of commodities. A thirty minute talk today would have virtually no effect on the adults who heard it, and had to return to their daily routine of work and caring for children. But if Mason had planted a firm seed in just one child's mind, the eventual payoff would make his speech well worth the effort.

* * *

'Well, how did I do?' Mason asked as he and O'Toole walked to the car, parked across the street from the V.F.W. building. They had taken Mason's old Toyota , since O'Toole had been uncertain of the neighborhood.

'I think you did as well as could be expected,' O'Toole said. 'I was glad you didn't use the A-word. I would've bolted for the door.'

'Come now, Mr. O'Toole, you need to learn to relish a good confrontation.'

'Nope, controversy is your department.' O'Toole unlocked the passenger door and then walked around to the driver's side. 'What I have to do is sell.'

'And how are your preparations coming?' Mason asked once they had buckled their seatbelts.

'Pretty well, I think.' O'Toole started the car. 'I'm still a bit shaky on the children issue.'

'That should be an easy one,' Mason said with excitement, 'since the government harms children more than any other group. Just point to the public school system, and the horrible foster care system. I have dozens of newspaper clippings in my office if you'd like some anecdotes.'

'Nah, I'm thinking more about'' O'Toole's voice trailed off as he switched lanes on the busy road. ''is it in some sense wrong to abuse children in an anarchist society?'

'Of course it's wrong,' Mason replied immediately. 'Surely you don't need a group of legislators to teach you morality.'

O'Toole laughed. 'Okay, that's not what I meant. I'm asking, how exactly do you penalize people for child abuse?'

'First, keep in mind that there doesn't need to be 'an' answer to that. There are all sorts of mechanisms available to a free people to influence their world. Most obvious, parents wouldn't send their children to schools or daycare facilities unless they possessed a solid reputation. Just as with abortion, people with particularly strong beliefs could form homogeneous communities in which all members signed a contract specifying the penalties for improper behavior. And the most elegant solution,' Mason said with a twinkle, 'is the baby market. With no paternalistic regulation, adoptive couples would be allowed to offer thousands of dollars to mothers to give up their babies. This would probably eliminate child abuse altogether, since abusive parents would most likely sell their unwanted children to loving buyers.'

O'Toole smiled. 'You know what? That will be our little secret. If anyone asks about children, I'll handle it.'

'Fine with me,' Mason said as he stared out the window.

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