Thomas Sowell

THE RECENT justifiable outcry about the irresponsibility of the entertainment industry in feeding young people a steady diet of calloused violence and cheap sex would have more moral standing if it did not also reveal the double standards in the media and in politics.

Public schools across the length and breadth of this country have shown movies with more explicit sex to a captive audience of grade schoolers than most of the trash produced by the entertainment industry and marketed to teenagers. But when government does something harmful, it is never considered to be as bad as when the same thing happens in the private sector.

As far back as the 1980s, hearings in Washington revealed that movies showing naked adults having all kinds of sex -- heterosexual and homosexual -- were being shown to school children. As for violence, movies showing children engaging in violence against their parents were likewise being disseminated. Accompanying all this were books and programs undermining and ridiculing traditional morality under the label "values clarification."

Add to this a whole program promoted nationwide called "death education," spending weeks stirring up students' emotions about dying -- even children in kindergarten. And all of this time-consuming activity has been going on while our students are failing to keep up with students in other countries in academic subjects.

Incidentally, "death education" was pushed on kids at Columbine High School, long before the shootings there. But the shrinks who are so quick to blame everything imaginable for this tragedy keep totally quiet about the reckless playing with students' emotions about death that went on at Columbine.

If the government does it, apparently it is OK. There is never a lack of claims of good intentions behind the experiments with children's psyches that go on in the public schools. But there was a time, before the dumbing down of education, when we understood that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

It is much the same story in the outcries against soaring gasoline prices. Politicians are quick to denounce the "greed" of the oil companies, and the Clinton administration has added to the moral melodrama by launching investigations into the causes of these price rises, especially in the midwest. In reality, this administration's own internal memoranda had already cited the government's actions, especially in the midwest, as factors behind the gasoline price increases. Nevertheless, Al Gore and other liberal Democrats started sounding off on TV against Big Oil, even though they knew better.

Britain's recent massive protests against soaring gasoline prices there virtually shut down London, but at least it showed that the British had a more realistic understanding of the causes of these sky-high gas prices. The protesters wanted the government to reduce its astronomical taxes on every gallon of gasoline.

In the United States, unfortunately, most Americans seem unaware that federal taxes alone add several times as much to the cost of every gallon of gasoline as the profits of the "greedy" oil companies. But no one dreams of calling the government greedy. It is the old double standard again.

In addition to getting more money out of every gallon of gasoline than the oil companies that produced it, the government adds to the costs indirectly in innumerable ways. While the Clinton administration is pleading with Middle East countries to increase their oil output, in order to bring down American gasoline prices, it is at the same time forbidding Americans from producing oil in all sorts of places where we have our own.

The reason for these mutually contradictory policies? Political expediency. The Clinton administration has been pandering to the self-righteous environmentalist hysteria-mongers who denounce oil drilling, even in remote wildernesses where only a few isolated Sierra Club backpackers might be offended by seeing where the oil comes from that lets them drive there in their minivans and sport utility vehicles.

Incidentally, Al Gore in his hysterical book "Earth in the Balance" advocated higher gasoline prices. But when they happen during an election year, suddenly he is against them. If you want a chameleon for president, he is your man.

Even when the government does worse things than people in the private sector could do or would do, somehow that's OK -- at least to the big-government liberals who dominate the media and academia.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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