NEW SETBACK FOR AUTO REGULATORS
A massive report and several auto test fiascos have thrown new roadblocks in the path of the automobile regulatory bureaucracies. The report is called "Cumulative Regulatory Effects on the Cost of Automotive Transportation" (RECAT), and was completed in February 1972 by an ad hoc committee of the White House Office of Science and Technology. Essentially, the report is a comprehensive cost-benefit study of the effects of Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulation. Its basic conclusion: that the safety and anti-pollution equipment required for 1976 models will not be worth the price—$873 over the cost of 1971 models ($350 for emission controls and $523 for safety equipment).
On pollution controls the report argues that the technology to meet the 1976 nitrogen oxide limits is not available at reasonable cost, and that the regulations should in any case not be imposed uniformly for all cars across the country. Rather, there should be one set of standards for cars sold in populated, polluted areas and another for rural areas, so that only those who need the stringent controls will have to pay for them.
It is on safety regulations that the report is most devastating, especially in deflating the overblown arguments for air bags (see "Is 'Inflation' Good For You?" REASON, March 1971). Not only would the benefits of air bags be outweighted by their high cost, but even at 99.9% reliability, the bags would cause as many deaths (due to inadvertent firings) as they would prevent during crashes. The automobile companies are hoping the RECAT report will bolster their legal case against being forced to install air bags, currently pending with the U.S. 6th Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, in two highly-publicized air bag demonstrations—one at Wayne State University's Biomechanics Center and the other at NHTSA's Arizona proving ground—the air bags failed to go off, thereby resulting in "death" for the dummies (which were wearing only lap belts, not shoulder belts).
• "A New Backlash Against New-Car Standards," BUSINESS WEEK, 25 March 1972.
• "Air Bag Test Proves Big Embarrassment," UPI, 24 May 1972.
NEW VICTORIES FOR PROPERTY RIGHTS
Libertarian political theory holds that property rights are fundamental human rights, leftist rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding. Yet it has never been entirely clear whether the U.S. legal system supported the libertarian or the statist viewpoint. In a little-noticed April decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the libertarian position. Speaking for a 7-0 unanimous court, Justice Potter Stewart stated that the distinction between "personal liberties" and "property rights" was false. "Property does not have rights," wrote Stewart, "People have rights."
The Supreme Court case concerned Mrs. Dorothy Lynch, a New Haven hospital employee whose credit union account was garnished by the Household Finance Corporation. Mrs. Lynch's lawyers claimed the garnishment violated her right to a court hearing. Lower courts have in the past been making a distinction between such "personal liberties" as voting and free speech, and the right to property, and dismissing cases dealing with the latter. The Supreme Court unanimously held that "The right to enjoy property without unlawful deprivation, no less than the right to speak or the right to travel, is in truth a 'personal' right, whether the 'property' in question be a welfare check, a home, or a savings account. In fact, a fundamental interdependence exists between the personal right to liberty and the personal right to property. Neither could have any meaning without the other. That rights in property are basic civil rights has long been recognized."
In another significant case, the Court extended its endorsement of property rights. In a 5-4 decision the Court ruled that a shopping center is private property, even though its walkways are open to the public. The court ruled that an anti-war group had no right to distribute handbills on shopping center property without the owner's permission. Property does not lose its private character "merely because the public is generally invited to use it for designated purposes, " said the majority opinion delivered by Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr.
The case, which involved 50-acre Lloyd Center in Portland, Oregon, has immense implications for the future of shopping centers, private residential communities, industrial parks, office complexes, megastructures, and other forms of proprietary communities (see REASON's special April 1972 issue on "Alternatives to Urban Decay"). These new forms of large-scale private enterprise can now proceed with the task of revitalizing our urban areas, with the vital distinction between public and private unblurred.
• "Supreme Court Upholds Property Rights," ERGO (Free Campus News Service), 3 May 1972.
• Lynch vs. Household Finance Corp., 31 L. Ed. 2d 424 (1972).
• "Distribution of Handbills in Shopping Centers Illegal," Associated Press, 22 June 1972.
• Lloyd Corp vs. Tanner, 40 U.S.L.W. 4829 (U.S. June 22, 1972).
FREE TRADE IN DRUGS
Two of the country's most innovative thinkers have recently published articles pointing out the absurdity of our present drug laws, and advocating legal sale and distribution of heroin and other hard drugs. The authors are Peter F. Drucker, noted management consultant and author of THE AGE OF DISCONTINUITY, and Dr. Thomas Szasz, author of numerous books on mental health and civil liberties.
In his SATURDAY REVIEW article, Drucker analyzes the problems confronting our cities and concludes that the single greatest threat is our present narcotics laws, which "make the 99 percent of us who are free from addiction the main victims of this monstrous plague." As Drucker points out, it is only the laws against narcotics that drives the price to such high levels that a career of theft is required for all but the wealthiest addict. As he points out, "every 'victory' in the 'war against narcotics' increases the profitability of this trade and soon creates new pushers, more addicts, and bigger profits." With so much money to be made so easily, "creating new addicts becomes irresistably attractive," to provide "significant revenue and profit producers for older addicts."
Drucker takes a characteristically no-nonsense approach to the solution, first noting that the basic problem is not curing the addict; rather, it is protecting the healthy. And to do this, "there is only one way out: Take the profit out of hard drugs. And this means making them available to the addict free or at cost."
Szasz takes a very different tack in his article for HARPER'S. He argues that despite the fact that most discussions of drug abuse are framed in medical, pharmacological, or psychiatric terms, the judgments that people make regarding drug use are moral judgments. Usually, the moral aspect is underplayed by those favoring drug crackdowns, who then resort to exaggeration of the drugs' true pharmacological properties as a scare tactic. Szasz cites impressive evidence to the effect that opiates per se are nowhere near as harmful as the drug-law supporters claim, based on pre-Harrison Act studies of addicts who lived relatively normal, productive lives.
Szasz then squarely confronts the moral argument, stating that "regardless of their danger, all drugs should be 'legalized'…I favor free trade in drugs for the same reason the Founding Fathers favored free trade in ideas. In an open society it is none of the government's business what idea a man puts into his mind; likewise, it should be none of the government's business what drug he puts into his body." Quoting John Stuart Mill, Szasz further argues for the general right of self-medication, including the removal of prescription requirements on drugs. He rightly points out that our society allows the relatively unrestricted purchase of other dangerous articles (like shotguns) without any form of prior restraint, "not because we believe that guns are safe, but because we believe even more strongly that civil liberties are precious." In the area of drug abuse, Szasz maintains, sooner or later this "basic moral dilemma" must be faced.
• "How to Take the Profits Out of Hard Drugs," Peter F. Drucker, SATURDAY REVIEW, 13 May 1972, pp. 26-27.
• "The Ethics of Addiction," Thomas S. Szasz, HARPER'S MAGAZINE, April 1972, pp. 74-79.
IMPORT QUOTAS: A MIXED BAG
Spring and summer revealed an odd assortment of Administration actions regarding import quotas. Although Nixon three years ago dismissed the recommendations of the Oil Import Task Force (headed by George Shultz) to abolish the quotas, he gave in a little in May of this year. After the six New England governors and Consumers Union filed suit against the quotas this spring, Nixon hastily signed a proclamation increasing the amount of foreign oil allowed, by about 15%, for the remainder of 1972. The basic structure of import quotas and their pre-proclamation limits, of course, remain on the books for the future.
Meanwhile, in response to the pressure of rising food prices, the Administration made much ado about its June action lifting meat import quotas for the remainder of the year. Less noticed in all the shouting was its action two weeks earlier imposing import quotas on low-priced cheeses. Swiss, Emmenthaler, Gruyere, and a variety of other cheeses will be subject to poundage quotas if their price falls below 62 cents a pound (the previous limit, from 1968, was 47 cents a pound). The White House was quick to point out that fancy specialized cheeses were not involved in the order, which was limited to cheeses purchased by hard-pressed lower and middle-income groups. The prices of these cheeses can now rise without foreign competition, much to the delight of dairy farmers during this election year.
• "Courting a New Import Policy," BUSINESS WEEK, 22 April 1972, p. 44.
• "Oil: Up the Quotas," TIME, 22 May 1972.
• "Nixon Imposes Quotas on Low-priced Cheeses," UPI, 4 June 1972.
Two communities, one in California and one in New York, have taken drastic steps to cope with the escalating cost of government. South San Francisco, a medium-size suburb on the San Francisco peninsula, has contracted out a major portion of its governmental functions to a private firm. Prattsburg, New York, a small upstate village, has dissolved its government entirely, turning over needed service responsibilities to the surrounding town.
In South San Francisco, the Los Angeles-based consulting firm VTN Corp. began operations on 6 June 1972. The firm is running the city's Department of Ecological Development, a new superagency which encompasses the functions of engineering, streets, sewers, parks, and the marina. VTN is operating under a one-year, renewable contract with a 30-day cancellation clause.
It has full authority to run the defined city operations, including the power to hire and fire. (Thus far VTN's reorganization has resulted in six city engineers, including the Public Works Director, losing their jobs, to eliminate duplication and increase efficiency.) Mayor Frank Mammini says VTN is expected to bring in savings of $100,000 during its first year under contract. "We're trying to do what should have been done years ago," he added. "If cities today can't understand that they can't afford bureaucracy and inefficiency any more, then they are going to go down the drain."
Prattsburg did just that. In order to cut taxes, the village residents voted to abolish their government, eliminating the mayor, village clerk, and four councilmen. Necessary services, such as police and street maintenance, will be provided by the surrounding town, at an average per capita tax saving of $75 per year.
• "City Operations Run by a Firm." SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, 7 June 1972.
• "Dissolving the Government," WALL STREET JOURNAL, 29 March 1972.
• See also: "Contracts: Key to Urban Rebirth" by Robert Poole, and "Rent-a-Sheriff: Market Control of Public Services" by James Q. Wilson, REASON, April 1972.
FREEDOM FOR FREE SCHOOLS
In what is almost certain to be a landmark case, the Santa Fe (New Mexico) Community School and the Cedar Grove Cooperative School have filed a class-action suit seeking to end State regulation of nonpublic schools in New Mexico. The action grows out of a 1971 decision by the State Board of Education disapproving the secondary education program of the Santa Fe Community School (SFCS). New Mexico law subjects private schools to rigid requirements on teacher certification, number and type of courses, minimum enrollment, and standardized testing of students; in addition, each new private school must obtain a State license prior to opening.
SFCS and its sister school have been joined in their suit against the State by the Harvard Center for Law and Education which is providing legal counsel, as is the local ACLU chapter. The group contends that the State's actions are unconstitutional on several grounds. According to Ed Nagel of SFSC, the State is violating individual rights protected by both the 1st and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution: "By attempting to mandate a single, State-approved and controlled educational scheme for every citizen in New Mexico, the State Board of Education is ignoring the individual's right to choose values for himself and his children other than those of his neighbors, thereby threatening his freedoms of speech, association, and religion." In addition, Nagel points out that the State Board's procedural arbitrariness constitutes lack of "due process," and also that since the Board frequently waives its regulations for conventional prep schools, it actions regarding the free schools violate the "equal protection" clause.
Further, this suit by implication challenges the State's compulsory attendance law. Nagel notes that the New Mexico constitution restricts public educational agencies to the determination of "public school policy" and the "control, management, and direction of all public schools." He adds that "by establishing regulatory provisions for nonpublic schools, the State is attempting unlawfully to extend its public power to include jurisdiction of nonpublic educational activities. The State Board of Education currently claims this authority on the basis of the wording in the Compulsory School Attendance Law. To the extent that this law effects a public monopoly, compulsory attendance is being challenged in this suit as unconstitutional."
SFSC and its suit against the State also has the support of educational reformer John Holt (see "Deschooling Society," REASON, April-May 1971). In his latest book, FREEDOM AND BEYOND, Holt extends his earlier call for separation of State and education and urges an end to compulsory education laws as the first step.
• "Slingshot Politics: The Santa Fe Community Schools vs. the State of New Mexico," NEW SCHOOLS EXCHANGE NEWSLETTER, Issue No. 67, 1 Dec. 1971.
• "The Santa Fe Community School," Ibid., Issue No. 74/75, 15 Mar. 1 Apr. 1972.
• "Too Much Schooling?" TIME, 19 June 1972, p. 44.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Trends".