Readers Write: Prof. Mitau, Sen. Joe Manchin, population growth, the New Year – Minneapolis Star Tribune

Curt Brown’s remembrance of Prof. G. Theodore Mitau, “Mitau put his stamp on Minn. education” (Dec. 26), evoked many memories of the Macalester professor who influenced me most. I learned quickly that I could not just smile and fake it in his class. We had to defend our papers one-on-one with him. He once admonished me because I had the “audacity” to quote “Henry Luce’s Time magazine” in a paper I had written on school desegregation. He instructed that from then on, before I finished any paper or made any presentation, I was to ask myself if it could get by Mitau. If not, I was to go back to work.
He still peers over my shoulder. I often quote his stark lesson, “Remember. The man who pushes the button to destroy mankind will do so convinced that he is right.” During class, I chafed at and sometimes challenged his “proximate solutions to insoluble problems” approach to change. In 1970, we didn’t have time for incremental pragmatists. As I reflect now, I realize that no matter how idealistic my venture, it is a proximate solution accompanied by a new set of problems and that dangers lurk in utopia. I still organize, struggle and advocate and do so with a rigor and humility taught to me by Prof. Mitau.
Mel Duncan, St. Paul

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Thank you to Curt Brown for his admirable, poignant article on Prof. Mitau. Like many students, I was lucky to have Mitau as a teacher and mentor. Mitau was passionate, humorous, charismatic and demanding teacher, who brought out the best in his students. He would walk around the classroom, asking questions in his deep, booming voice, and then he would pounce with a question. Mitau played the students’ answers against each other the way a concert pianist plays the piano. For him, lifelong learning was a joyous exercise in “the art of self discovery” and his enthusiasm was infectious. Students wanted to do well in his classes because they didn’t want to disappoint him.
Mitau encouraged his students to be active in politics because he taught that through politics one can build “the good society.” He encouraged students to be social engineers to use law to solve problems. He passionately argued that human rights have to be actively fought for at all times, and we all have an obligation to make sure civil liberties flourish. Since his untimely death 42 years ago, he is fondly remembered and deeply missed by his students, colleagues and all who had the privilege to know him.
Tom Harbinson, Maple Grove

Let me get this straight: Democrats are still trying to get Sen. Joe Manchin on board with President Joe Biden’s so-called “Build Back Better” bill (“Biden says he and Manchin ‘are going to get something done,'” Dec. 23). But they think the best way to get Manchin to go their way is to harass him, call him names, and bring out far-left celebs like Bette Midler to go so far as to call the people of Sen. Manchin’s home state, West Virginia, all kinds of deplorable names? Folks, even by liberal standards, this is a very strange tactic to get someone on your side. I don’t know Sen. Manchin from Adam, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of person who will cave into bullying tactics. I think you folks on the left have just chased Sen. Manchin into the arms of the Republicans.
Tom R. Kovach, Nevis, Minn.

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Is it really so puzzling that Manchin would stand athwart the herd of lemmings thundering toward the cliff, and yell “stop”? Why would someone representing a coal state vote to kill that business? Why would someone representing a relatively poor state vote to restore SALT deductions to rich blue-state residents? With the blue model falling into chaos and lawlessness all around us, why would someone representing the reddest of states vote to inflict that model on his constituents? I understand progressives’ urgency: This is so good, we have to get it done now before we all get voted out of office next year for doing it (because people don’t know what’s good for them, or something). It says a lot about progressives’ understanding of democracy that they expect Manchin to sacrifice himself and his constituents at the altar of the progressive project.
Chip Allen, Woodbury

In Tyler Cowen’s Bloomberg Opinion piece on the economic benefits of population growth (“What America needs is … more Americans,” Opinion Exchange, Dec. 29), it is remarkable that he found no space whatsoever to explicitly identify immigration as a large, historically significant driver of that growth. Instead, he seems to allude to it coyly: “[I]t costs relatively little to allow more people to enjoy and benefit from America’s Constitution.” It’s unlikely that he is ignorant of the benefits of immigrants, as he is a professor of economics, so I can only conclude that he fears the scorn of conservatives, who have worked diligently to reduce immigration for decades. He also alludes to concerns about population growth harming the environment. This concern is usually couched in the context of global population growth, so, ironically, immigration is the way for the U.S. to grow without increasing global overpopulation. Regardless of these failures, his column proves the folly of anti-immigration policies, even if he declines to say it directly.
Timothy R. Church, St. Paul

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I eagerly read “What America needs is … more Americans,” thinking I’d finally find a persuasive explanation of why more people is better. Since it was written by an economics professor, I expected a rash of revealing statistics. But, alas, it read more like a psychology article about mood or sense of excitement from newness or growth. His attempt to conflate population growth with lower inflation had no meat, and in fact the general rule of thumb is that higher economic growth is more likely to produce higher inflation. Rather than obsessing about growth, we should obsess about quality of life. We should obsess about our environment, about health, about stronger families and about reducing the obscene level of income inequality — rather than whether population grows at 0, 1 or 4%. Not only is our obsession with growth misplaced, it is unsustainable.
Ryan Pulkrabek, Minneapolis

In the face of COVID fatigue and anti-vaccination hysteria, the twin evils of white supremacy and racism, partisan gridlock and the insidious Big Lie, menacing threats to world peace and the health of our planet, many of us are afraid that the new year will be even worse than the current one. But we dare not let that fear lead to paralysis.
In her book “The Outrageous Pursuit of Hope: Prophetic Dreams for the Twenty-First Century,” author Mary Grey offers an alternative. She declares, “Hope stretches the limits of what is possible. It is linked with that basic trust in life without which we could not get from one day to the next. … To live by hope is to believe that it is worth taking the next step: that our actions, our families, and cultures and society have meaning, are worth living and dying for. Living in hope says to us, ‘There is a way out,’ even from the most dangerous and desperate situations … .”
With hope in our hearts, let us welcome 2022 with courage, conviction and commitment. We can make a difference — for the good!
Alan Bray, St. Peter, Minn.

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