Abolishing "Crimes Without Victims"
At a time when politicians more than ever before are using "crime in the streets" as the justification for ever larger tax budgets and as the excuse for ever greater restrictions on liberty (Mitchell's "no-knock" drug law, toughened anti-hippy vagrancy laws, etc.), it is genuinely refreshing to find a major new book asserting a predominantly libertarian approach to the subject of crime. An Honest Politician's Guide to Crime Control advocates legalization of all of the following noncoercive activities now defined as "crimes": 1) public drunkenness, 2) purchase and use of drugs, 3) gambling, 4) disorderly conduct and vagrancy, 5) abortion, and 6) any form of sexual activities among consenting adults (including prostitution, homosexuality and fornication). These activities presently account for 3 million arrests each year—fully one-half of all non-traffic arrests in the United States! As the authors point out, "we pay enormous costs [for this mistaken view of law] and we overload our criminal justice system. It is thus unable to give us protection where we really need protection—from violence, attacks on our homes, and damage to our property." This book should be required reading for students of the police problem—to say nothing of our lawmakers.
For details, see:
An Honest Politician's Guide to Crime Control by Norval Morris and Gordon Hawkins, University of Chicago Press, 1970.
"Justifying" Science Subsidies
Ever since World War II the university science community has been largely supported by the taxpayers, through such federal agencies as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Health (NIH). From time to time, whether from guilt or for other reasons, spokesmen from this community feel called upon to justify their receipt of this money. In the last two years, what with Viet Nam and the War on Poverty, the science budget's rate of increase has slowed down—to the accompaniment of agonizing cries from the scientists that the nation is thereby being placed in mortal danger. One of the most common arguments for government subsidies for research has been that massive federal funding will improve the quantity and quality of research to the point where practical applications will be developed much more rapidly—i.e., that the time lag between a basic discovery and its application in a product will be reduced.
John Langrish of the University of Manchester has been conducting a detailed investigation in an attempt to see if this contention is supported by facts. His results to date, based on 80 major technical innovations in England, have shown that "many industrial innovations are part of a continuing process of change within a particular industry, and the connection of this change with science is rather obscure." Thus, he considers his hypothesis—"that [pure] scientific discoveries do not really contribute to economic advance except in exceptional circumstances"—to be supported by the data.
Without their usual utilitarian justification, then, where will the scientists turn? The evidence thus far indicates a tendency toward dogma. Langrish himself offers the following "argument": "Just as a civilized country should be able to subsidize grand opera or an Olympic team, so it should finance science." Or consider the contention of Texas Instruments' Patrick E. Haggerty, that since it isn't possible to justify support of science on the basis of concrete objectives, "support must be justified on a level of effort basis." He explains: "Level of effort funding requires that a policy be established, both to set the level at which science is to be supported, and then to defend that level of support against the inevitable encroachment of other more defensible needs." Lest anyone think that ethical and epistemological chaos are the exclusive province of the humanities departments, these scientists should set the record straight.
Technology Review, March 1970, pp. 73-74
Chemical and Engineering News, May 4, 1970, p. 37.
In The Road to Serfdom (1944) Hayek pointed out how and why "the worst get on top" in a bureaucratic environment based on coercion: the years since then have provided abundant evidence in support of this contention. Political scientist Theodore J. Lowi has spent a number of years analyzing the effects of federally-assisted urban redevelopment and public housing programs. His conclusion: "After more than 20 years of serious involvement by the Federal Government.…the social condition of American cities could be little worse if the concerned federal agencies had been staffed all those years by South African agents." In a recent article in Trans-Action, Lowi presents his detailed analysis of the effects of federal programs in "Iron City"—a southern city whose name has been changed "to protect the guilty." In 1950, over 20% of the city's population were Blacks, and they did not live in a ghetto—they lived in neat, clean neighborhoods in all sections of the city. When the bureaucrats completed their urban renewal and public housing projects, virtually 100% of the Black population had been uprooted and segregated to two locations on the far side of town; former Black neighborhoods are now used for all white public housing and large commercial ventures.
Lowi points out that "every Negro in 'Iron City' knew what was happening. Every Negro in Chicago and New York and Cleveland and Detroit knows the same about his city." "And most importantly, the federal personnel who allocated the funds, and still do, also had access to all the project plans…Despite Iron City's open approach to apartheid, federal assistance was never in question." But most interesting of all is Lowi's reluctant conclusion that "some of the most cherished instruments of the liberal state may be positively evil." This was news when Hayek said it, but it is also news when a well-known liberal says it. The statist mythology dies hard…but it is dying.
For details, see:
"Apartheid USA" by Theodore J. Lowi, Trans-Action, Feb. 1970, pp. 32-39.
See also Lowi's The End of Liberalism, W.W. Norton, 1969.
Outflanking the Regulators
Readers familiar with the communications field are well aware of the virtual stranglehold in which the FCC holds individuals and companies in the name of "the public convenience and necessity." Still, the mind of man cannot be throttled and innovators continue to discover new and better ways to communicate—outside of State control.
A recent technological breakthrough is the surface wave transmission line—or "G-line." The G-line is, in effect, a very large coaxial cable without an outer cover, along which a surface wave of electromagnetic energy travels. Because the surface wave does not radiate out into space, but stays within a controllable radius, the G-line's signals cannot interfere with other users of the airwaves—hence, it is exempt from FCC regulation. The potential communications uses of G-lines stagger the imagination—for message transmission in competition with coaxial cable and microwave systems, as a signaling device along power lines and railroad lines, as a vehicle position and motion sensor for highways, railroads, and future high speed ground transit systems, and as a perimeter detection system for security purposes.
But the biggest advantage of all is the G-lines' independence from the existing "allocated" frequency spectrum. According to Dr. Theodore Hafner, president of Surface Conduction, Inc., "Every highway, railroad track, or any other private or public right of way may become a surface wave corridor, permitting…the independent transmission of thousands of channels, with essentially the same equipment now used in microwave or coaxial systems."
Two other cases of technology making possible an end run around the bureaucrats were recently in the news. An article in Parade noted that carrier current radio—low-power AM broadcasting which transmits in a local area using electric power lines as a conductor—is beginning to spread from college campuses to minority and low-income communities. As with the G-line, because the signal does not radiate, it does not interfere with other users of the airwaves. Hence, carrier current radio stations can be established without FCC licenses, making possible the development of "underground" radio stations free of government control, fulfilling the same need for non-Establishment news and views now being (partially) filled by underground newspapers.
The other case concerns the birth of "pirate" television in Europe. Terry Bate, one of the principals in Radio Caroline—the leading free market radio station in Europe (until closed down by the British government)—hasn't given up his fight with the British State broadcasting empire. On July 1 he was scheduled to begin pirate TV broadcasting from transmitters on board a pair of Super-G Constellations flying at 20,000 feet over international waters. "Caroline TV" will offer rock music, talk shows, and "camp" movies to a British viewing public which must depend on stuffy State-owned BBC and the one licensed commercial channel. Although British advertisers are forbidden by law to deal with a nonlicensed station, European and American advertisers are rapidly signing up, anticipating the likely popularity of free-market TV.
Communications, March, 1970, pp. 36-40.
Parade, May 31, 1970.
Business Week, May 9, 1970
For years the government has hawked Savings Bonds, invoking God, motherhood, and the flag—always implying that buying bonds would "strengthen America" and given one a "share in freedom." Left unanswered were the questions of how one strengthened America by increasing the federal deficit and how one could designate as "freedom" a piece of paper obligating the future tax money of people who are not yet old enough to vote (and some not yet born).
It has been a long time coming, but there are beginning to be signs that perhaps the game is over. In June of this year, Savings Bond redemptions exceeded sales by $30 million, the nineteenth straight month this has happened. Even the government's desperate raising of the interest rate—from 4¼% to 5%—could not stop the trend. A number of anti-war groups and individuals are organizing campaigns urging people to cash in their bonds—in Pittsburgh, Madison, and Los Angeles, among other places.
But the strongest move yet has come from Fortney H. Stark, president of Security National Bank in Oakland, California. Stark recently took the unprecedented step of advising his bank's customers to redeem their bonds, arguing that Savings Bonds are a poor investment. "They pay only 5%, which looks pretty anemic, when you consider that the 1969 rate of inflation was 6%." So sell the bonds, he urged, "and reinvest in something that will protect your savings better." Now it would not be too surprising to hear an average businessman make such a statement, but keep in mind the nature of our monetary and banking system, over which the Federal Reserve has virtually unlimited control. For a banker to risk the Fed's displeasure requires a respectable amount of courage, which Stark has. He needed it: within a week the Federal Reserve revoked the bank's bond license.
UPI dispatch, July 7, 1970
Business Week, May 23, 1970
Computers in School?
Public school administrators seldom admit the extent of the public schools' failure to educate. On those rare occasions when they do, they are just as likely to promise that real miracles are just around the corner. First there was "progressive" education, later the "look say" reading method, and more recently the "new math." But today's new panacea is the computer. There is scarcely a school administrator around who doesn't aspire to control a humming, whirring, million-dollar computer system, which will somehow revolutionize education.
The former head of the computer center at Harvard, Anthony Oettinger, has written a book which takes an objective look at the computer-education cult. Unlike some critics, Oettinger does not concentrate only on the computer—wisely, he looks further, examining the nature of the school system itself. In doing so, he points out the "non-system" nature of public schools—since there are no objective measures of performance, no one can tell whether or not a school system is a good one or not. In particular, nobody can make the necessary cost-effectiveness calculations to determine how much money is worth spending on advanced-technology equipment. And while public schools have a small fortune invested in audio-visual equipment and language laboratories, Oettinger has found that relatively few schools are adequately using even trivial items like overhead projectors.
To expect such a "system" to work educational miracles is absurd. Oettinger, therefore, comes out strongly for replacing the public school system with a system of competing schools, financed by educational vouchers, as proposed by Milton Friedman, among others. The establishment of new, privately-managed, competing school systems would make necessary the development of cost accounting and cost-effectiveness measures in education, leading to the most efficient utilization of equipment and systems. Under such a setup, there would be strong economic incentives to develop low-cost, optimized timesharing systems specifically tailored to classroom needs. And when schools must compete in terms of performance, the developers of individualized, computer aided instruction will have a real chance to demonstrate their capability. Oettinger clearly does not think cost-effective systems exist at present. But he is also convinced that the monopoly public school system is one of the obstacles standing in the way.
Run, Computer, Run, by Anthony G. Oettinger, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1969, 306 pp., $5.95
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Trends".