There is just an outside chance that some form of deregulation of the airline industry will become a reality this session of Congress [see Trends, this issue]. Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Howard Cannon (D-NE) have cosponsored a bill to allow the CAB to ease restrictions in pricing decisions and route selection. This is hardly what a libertarian would call real deregulation, but it's the best that has been introduced so far. The fact that Kennedy and Cannon, who are heavy hitters among different factions of Senate Democrats, are behind it, make it something to be taken seriously.
Hearings have been scheduled for late March in the Aviation Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee. Several libertarian witnesses requested a place on the witness stand, and some may actually appear. A letter suggesting that the Cannon-Kennedy proposal is a good start, but that deregulation should cut much deeper, to your Senator, to Cannon, Kennedy, or to the Senate Aviation Subcommittee, would be helpful. (U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510)
AT&T CASE COULD OPEN THINGS UP
The bill proposed by AT&T to strengthen its communications monopoly has been dutifully introduced in the 95th Congress (Hansen and Wallop of Wyoming in the Senate; Roncalio of Wyoming in the House—S.530 and HR 8). This bill just might open up some deregulatory possibilities. The House Subcommittee on Communications, after hearings last September, decided to look into the idea of updating the whole Communications Act of 1934, which established the FCC and built the current regulatory framework. A preliminary staff report was due by the end of March to Subcommittee members. The whole process could take two years, which could give libertarians a chance to get in some deregulatory proposals.
With the whole Communications Act under consideration, Federal regulation of airwaves, the Fairness Doctrine, the telephone monopoly, and even the existence of the FCC have become fair game. If you have any thoughts or opinions, you might address them to Lionel Van Deerlin (D-CA) chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee (U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515).
Carter's proposal to bring all energy regulation under the wing of a single agency seems remarkably dangerous. The only reason energy development hasn't been completely stifled is that Federal regulation has been uncoordinated, allowing a few loopholes through which the market could operate. The Federal Energy Administration and Federal Power Commission, in fact, have occasionally advocated some limited deregulation. You can probably be sure that a single agency headed by James Schlesinger under the aegis of a Carter Administration will not see many such heresies. Unless I read these people wrong, they have boundless faith in the capacity of rational central management to set all things to rights. It's just a matter of reorganizing and putting good managers in charge. Was that Lady Liberty's strangling, muted cry I heard?
By all means, write like crazy in opposition to this giant step in the wrong direction. Senators, Congressmen, President, everybody should receive letters from libertarians.
BUYING THE UNIVERSITIES?
How is education to remain independent? Or was it ever, really? What are the prospects for much dissent from the government-promulgated view that what society needs is competent central management?
Pardon the pessimistic thoughts. They're prompted by the news that in 1976 the Environmental Protection Agency alone gave out over $50 million of our money to colleges and universities for research and development grants. The taxpayers may pay the pipers, but you may be sure that the EPA is calling the tune for us.
POSTAL MONOPOLY AGAIN
The executive-branch Commission on the Postal Service has completed hearings on postal reform, held in 21 different cities. They heard the case for repealing the Private Express Statutes from a number of sources during the hearings. Now they are preparing a report with recommendations for reform, due April 18. A flood of letters supporting repeal of the USPS monopoly on delivery of "First Class" mail status might be helpful. (Commission on the Postal Service, 1750 K St., N.W., Suite 800, Washington, DC 20006.)
MEDICAL FREEDOM OF CHOICE
Rep. Steve Symms (R-ID) is again introducing his Medical Freedom of Choice bill, which would repeal the "effectiveness" provisions of the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. If passed, the bill would leave the Food and Drug Administration with the power to test new drugs for safety, but would leave decisions about effectiveness to individual doctors and their individual patients. Last year the bill gained 64 co-sponsors from both parties. Symms hopes to reconstitute the constituency of libertarians, conservatives and health-food fans which killed the FDA's attempt to regulate large doses of vitamins several years ago. If he can do it, there is an outside chance this bill could be passed.
DRAFT OR UNIVERSAL SERVICE?
If you haven't written to your Senators to denounce both the Military Draft and a Universal Compulsory National Service program, please do so. Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) has apparently convinced himself that one or both is necessary, and is beating the drums. I think it would be helpful to identify ourselves as libertarians on this one, and make the most principled possible case against involuntary servitude. We can take the lead in this fight and win it, but we shouldn't underestimate the determination, power, and patience of the opposition.
NOTED IN PASSING
On attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in early February: They seem sadder than ever, a disjointed cause in search of another Reagan (or maybe Reagan Himself again) wavering confusedly between principle and expediency (why don't we run as Democrats?) Many conservatives may be ripe for some aggressive libertarian proselytizing.
To Empower People: The Role of Mediating Structures in Public Policy, by Peter Berger and Richard J. Neuhaus, published by the American Enterprise Institute. They're talking about the importance of voluntary institutions in a human community, urging that government not undercut these structures, but use them to advance "public policy." But many of their facts and arguments could easily support the proposition that voluntary institutions provide all the "social goal" coordination that society needs-and government is not necessary and distinctly unhelpful. Available from AEI (1150-17th St., N.W., Washington, DC 20036) for $2.50.
Alan Bock is director of Libertarian Advocate, a Washington-based pro-freedom lobbying organization.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Washington Watch".