About the time you receive this issue, James Earl Carter will be being sworn in as President of the United States. With liberal Democrats in control of both the executive and legislative branches of government, the next four years hold little promise for lovers of liberty. Noted economist Dr. Hans Sennholz looks for a period of "radical interventionism," now that the out-and-out Keynesians and social reformers once again have access to the reins of power.
Indeed, in short order we are likely to be faced with a renewed burst of inflation, wage and price controls, and national health insurance. Carter's campaign commitment to get the economy moving is virtually certain to lead to much larger budget deficits and (Arthur Burns notwithstanding) to massive increases in the money supply. When the resulting inflation is not curbed by pleas for "restraint" to labor and business leaders, can anyone doubt that wage and price controls will be trotted out, despite their dismal flop in 1971-74? (During the 32 months that controls were in effect, consumer prices rose faster than in any comparable period from 1950 through 1973.) All during his campaign Carter advocated standby authority for wage/price controls, as did Larry Klein, his principal economic advisor. His post-election attempt to back off from that position is as hollow as Richard Nixon's early-1971 pledge not to use such authority, even if granted by Congress.
And the final nail in the coffin of our once-free and independent medical profession may soon be driven, thanks to early passage of national health insurance. Despite recent Congressional outrage over Medicaid, the "greatest rip-off in history" according to official testimony, the Democratic euphoria now taking hold in Washington will likely succeed in pushing through an even greater version of this rip-off, in the form of NHI.
What other delights might we look forward to? Massive new grants to decaying, corrupt, crime-ridden cities; outlawing of all handguns; new antitrust assaults on successful companies, based on economic mythology; more aggressive enforcement of "affirmative action" coercion…you name it.
Realistically, though, is the new administration really that much worse than the one it replaces? To be sure, we no longer have free-market advocates Alan Greenspan and Paul MacAvoy on the Council of Economic Advisors, or William Simon running the Treasury Department, or Lewis Engman and Thomas Sowell promoting competition at the FTC, or administration staffers documenting the case against the CAB and the ICC. But somehow the same Nixon/Ford administration that contained these men also produced the largest budget deficits in American history, imposed wage/price controls for nearly three years, introduced the nightmarish Senate Bill 1, advocated national health insurance, and engineered the incredible FEO/FEA boondoggle that produced the long lines at gas stations three winters ago.
These and countless other horrors resulted from the lack of any consistent philosophy in the Republican administration. Which reflects, in turn, the intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican Party and much of the conservative movement in America. This bankruptcy also helps to explain why, as public opinion polls reveal, well over half of the population can consider themselves "conservative" (probably meaning "not liberal"), while simultaneously electing an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress. Vast numbers of people do not feel comfortable with liberal Democratic orthodoxy, but cannot find a home in conservative/Republican circles.
Here, of course, is where libertarianism offers such an attractive alternative. Unfortunately, despite an impressive effort and large expenditures, the fledgling Libertarian Party has yet to make a significant impact on the American political scene. The media's near-blackout continues, and (assuming the LP can sustain its present momentum) it will be at least two and probably four years before it has another chance to garner significant nationwide publicity.
Yet somehow the libertarian alternative must be presented. The horrors of the impending Carter regime and the unpalatability of the conservative/Republican alternative simply cry out for presentation of a principled, consistent political philosophy that challenges collectivism at its roots. We libertarians have that philosophy, if only we can get it across. With political campaigns temporarily in abeyance, now is the time to concentrate on developing and strengthening our means of education and communication.
The keystone of our communications efforts should be a high-quality national magazine. Only a magazine can obtain the regular exposure needed to earn a niche for libertarianism in the intellectual/literary/media community. Only a magazine can develop and stimulate libertarian analysis of current problems and formulation of workable solutions, on a regular basis. Only a magazine can provide the regular intellectual stimulation needed to keep the movement a growing, vital force.
Over the past six months we have been working to upgrade REASON to be that needed magazine. We have redesigned the format, improved the artwork, made articles more readable, and added new features. Still, there is a long way to go. After a drop in paid circulation during the past year, REASON has now exceeded the 15,000 paid circulation mark. To be self-sustaining, though, we need to reach 25,000 this year, and we need a paid staff, top-quality writers, aggressive advertising sales, and newsstand exposure. All of which takes money. We are presently seeking a number of people who will support our expansion efforts with a $1000 donation as a Reason Patron. Those who lend such support can select the area of improvement in which their gift will be used and will be listed on the masthead.
The past eight years lulled many people into a false sense of security, based on the idea that our "friends" were in office. That illusion is no longer possible. The reality of "radical interventionism" will soon be upon us. The United States could easily go the way of England—unless a truly principled opposition philosophy captures the imagination of thinkers and opinion-makers. REASON can provide the spark to fire the imaginations of young thinkers—if it grows and prospers. Your support—whether by gift subscriptions, small donations, or as a Reason Patron—could be crucial in the era ahead.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Here Comes the Carter Era".