Another Regulation Backfires
Nearly lost in all the shouting over the banning of Tris-BP by the Consumer Product Safety Commission was the fact that it was the Commission's own regulations that put the chemical into children's sleepwear to begin with. Federal standard DOCFF3-71, issued in July 1972, established rigid flame retardant requirements for children's sleepwear sized 0 to 6X. The standard is so severe that it requires flame-retarding chemicals to be added even to naturally flame-resistant materials like wool. As a result, clothing manufacturers have made massive shifts in production. Natural (but combustible) cotton, which was used in 56 percent of children's sleepwear in 1971, dropped to 13 percent by 1975, with the balance being made of synthetic fibers. And Tris-BP, an organic bromide, was found to be the most economical and convenient flame-retarding additive for polyester, acetate, and triacetate fibers.
Thus, about 40 percent of the nation's 50 million children became exposed to a chemical which can be absorbed through the skin or by sucking on a sleeve, and which is definitely a mutagen and very possibly a carcinogen. In its haste to issue a ban on further use of Tris and a recall of 20 million garments already on retail shelves, the CPSC did not even have the grace to apologize for issuing its absurd flammability standards in the first place. This despite the fact that 11 producers of children's sleepwear now face near-certain bankruptcy.
And what of the evidence that prompted the standard? Arlene Blum and Bruce Ames of the University of California at Berkeley—the researchers who established that Tris is a mutagen—point out that the Federal government's original data were faulty. The government's 1972 report claimed that 200,000 burns and 4000 deaths are associated with flammable fabrics each year, yet these numbers have now been found to be 10 times too high. Actually, there are only 16,000 burns and 500 deaths per year from fabric fires—and nobody knows how many of these are due to children's sleepwear catching on fire. It is known that the single major cause (of from 30 to 50 percent) of all fire deaths is smoking accidents—not usually a pastime of those ages 0 to 6. The next largest cause of residential fire deaths (open flames) accounts for only five percent of them.
Thus, the forced exposure of tens of millions of children to large quantities of a potentially cancer-causing chemical seems a high price to pay for an apparently minor decrease in fire-related accidents. Even the government's own National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control argued against this brute-force approach. Instead, it suggested clear flammability labeling, so that consumers and manufacturers could exercise free choice.
Perhaps the CPSC bureaucrats will learn a lesson about choice and risk from this sorry episode. On the agency's drawing boards are flammability standards for all children's and adults' clothing, tents, sleeping bags, curtains, and upholstered furniture. Will it force these standards, too, upon us, increasing by tenfold the 300 million lbs. of flame-retardants being added to the environment each year? Or will it allow people the right to assess their own risks? Stay tuned.
• "Consumer Unit Bans Tris-Treated Clothing," UPI (Washington), April 7, 1977.
• "Sleepwear Makers Warn on Tris Ruling," Ibid, April 25, 1977.
• "Flame-Retardant Additives as Possible Cancer Hazards," Arlene Blum and Bruce N. Ames, Science, Jan. 7, 1977, p. 17.
Competing Cabs Are Back
For the first time in 42 years, Los Angeles will have competition in taxicab service. That happy outcome is the result of five months of hassles that began when the city's former monopoly (franchised) company, Yellow Cab, went bankrupt last winter. Drivers who lost their jobs began agitating for the right to go into business on their own, and at one point the City Council was prepared to let them do just that. In March the Council passed an ordinance allowing independent operators to pick up customers citywide. But that measure was vetoed by Mayor Tom Bradley, who cited the alleged risk that such competition "could deteriorate to ruthless practices which endanger public order and invite criminal activity," whatever that means.
Meanwhile, the Council was busily franchising—though not on an exclusive basis—eight new companies in various portions of the city. After further protests by independent drivers, a compromise measure was worked out which permits independents to form associations which can then be franchised. Each such association must have at least 25 full-time drivers and must operate with a centralized dispatching system. Bradley signed this measure in April, and it went into effect May 23. At press time two driver associations of over 100 members each had been formed to apply for franchises.
Not quite a laissez faire victory, but LA's limited taxi competition is likely to prove a better deal for both drivers and customers than the 42 years of Yellow Cab monopoly.
• "Council Approves Return of Private Taxis," Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1977.
• "Bradley Vetoes Cab Plan," Ibid., March 19, 1977.
• "Owner-Driven Cabs Get Green Light from Council," Ibid., April 14, 1977.
• "18-Point Policy Statement on Independent Cabs Approved," Ibid., May 1, 1977.
Facts Against the Draft
The case against reinstating the draft—or any other form of conscription—is basically a moral one. There can be no justification for coercing people to perform work. That is slavery—involuntary servitude—and was outlawed by the 13th Amendment. Yet in countering the advocates of conscription, it may be useful, in addition, to correct their outright distortions of the facts.
Supporters of the draft stress the cost of today's volunteer military as their principal argument. It is true that total military personnel costs have risen substantially now that forced labor is no longer available, but certain significant costs have actually gone down. Since the end of the draft in 1973 the Army has spent less on training, equipping, and transporting recruits due to lower rates of turnover, and has spent less on discipline of unruly troops. There have been major reductions in measures of discontent: the desertion rate is down to 17.7 per 1000 compared with 52 per 1000 in 1973, and courts-martial were down to 9913 from 20,922 in 1973. Since similar decreases have not been observed in the Navy, which has used volunteers all along, the change appears due mainly to ending the draft, rather than, say, the end of the Vietnam war.
Moreover, the prospective cost savings of a return to conscription are not all that significant. The days of $90 a month recruits are gone forever. At the very least, Congress will insist on paying the minimum wage to draftees. That being the case, total savings would be under $2 billion a year, less than two percent of the $120 billion defense budget.
Other arguments raised against the volunteer military are equally hollow. Critics point to the Marine Corps' failure to meet its current recruitment goals. They neglect to mention that the Corps last year raised its standards, to seek 75 percent high school graduates rather than 55 percent as had previously been the case. Critics also cite the failure of local reserve and national guard companies to meet their enlistment goals—neglecting to point out that no funds have been provided for recruitment. Without the draft as an incentive, far fewer men are seeking refuge in these alternatives; hence, recruiting becomes necessary. Pentagon brass now concede this point and are developing special recruiting techniques.
The case against the draft is a strong one, but it can be made ever stronger if conscription's supporters can be persuaded to tell the truth.
• "Army Chief Cites Lower Costs of Volunteer Forces," Norman Kempster, Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1977.
• "The All-Volunteer Military Fights a War of Words," David P. Taylor, Ibid., April 28, 1977.
"Transportation Secretary Brock Adams lauded the Bay Area Rapid Transit System as a cure-all for the nation's dependence on gas-guzzling automobiles. 'A system such as BART…is necessary if people are going to move out of their cars,' Adams said yesterday while riding a BART train with reporters." —News item.
Secretary Adams' fondness for multibillion dollar fixed-rail transit systems used to be fairly standard among urban planners and transportation analysts. In the last few years, however (apparently unbeknownst to politician Adams), such thinking has undergone some radical revisionism. As actual cost data on BART and other new systems become available, honest planners are despairing of rail systems as a transportation solution.
BART, for instance, seems destined to go down in history as one of the world's greatest technological boondoggles. Built at a cost of over $2 billion, the system carries only 130,000 passengers per day. Taxpayers in the surrounding counties are forced to subsidize each daily round trip to the tune of $12.06—$2.62 for operating costs and $9.44 for capital costs. And though mass transit is supposed to be energy-efficient, BART will take 535 years just to break even on the energy costs of building the system.
These figures come from Dr. Charles A. Lave, associate professor of economics at the University of California at Irvine. Lave has recently gained a certain notoriety for suggesting that it would be cheaper for the government to buy every household a minicar than to build a fixed-rail transit system. Using his own Orange County as an example, Lave noted that even at retail prices, each of the county's 592,000 households could be provided with a Honda Civic or similar car for between $1.7 and $2.2 billion. By contrast, a proposed rail transit plan, rejected by the voters in 1974, would have cost $2.6 billion (in 1974 dollars).
Lave has been making such comparisons for the past eight years, and recently prepared a paper on the subject for the Institute of Transportation Studies. "The idea that public transportation will get people out of their cars is a myth, as far as the real world is concerned," says Lave. "Transit is not as fast, door-to-door. It does not leave the home or arrive directly at the destination. It cannot always offer even a seat, much less a private, uncrowded one. It offers less personal security." Perhaps that's why transit ridership continues to decline, even as the Feds keep pumping more money into such systems via the Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA). Lave points out that there were 8 billion transit trips in 1963, UMTA's first year. By 1972, after $3 billion in UMTA grants, the number of trips had declined to only 5.3 billion.
Lave's figures expose government transit systems as the vast boondoggles that they are. Secretary Adams should begin doing his homework, to save himself from further embarrassment.
• "U.S. Transit Chief Lauds BART," AP (Fremont), April 22, 1977.
• "A Mass Transit Proposal of a Different Sort," Los Angeles Times, Feb. 27, 1977.
Legalizing Freedom of Choice
Individuals in three states have won new legal rights to ingest substances considered harmful by the Federal government. The Indiana legislature overrode Gov. Otis Bowen's veto of a bill that legalizes both Laetrile and saccharin as of June 1. Indiana thus became the first state in which not only the use but also the production and sale of Laetrile are legal. Only prescription and administration of Laetrile by physicians are legal in Alaska, and a bill legalizing Laetrile to this extent was passed by the Florida legislature two days after the Indiana measure. Similar Laetrile legalization bills are pending in the legislatures of Arizona, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Oregon.
In Mississippi, meanwhile, Gov. Cliff Finch signed into law a bill decriminalizing the use of marijuana. Arrest and jail for first-time possession of up to an ounce have been eliminated, and users will face only a citation and a civil fine. Mississippi joins the ranks of Oregon, Alaska, Maine, Colorado, California, Ohio, and Minnesota as places where use of the substance in small amounts has been decriminalized.
• "Laetrile Will Be Legal," Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1977.
• "Florida Legislature OK's Use of Laetrile," UPI (Tallahassee), May 3, 1977.
• "Limited Usage of Laetrile Sought In Some States," AP, April 19, 1977.
• "Mississippi Decriminalizes Marijuana," NORML News, April 20, 1977.
• OSHA On Trial. The constitutionality of OSHA's warrantless searches of businesses will be decided once and for all by the U.S. Supreme Court next fall. The court announced it will hear OSHA's appeal of a U.S. Circuit Court judgment that such searches are unconstitutional (see Trends, April). Since that decision, OSHA inspections in Idaho have been halted. (Source: "OSHA to Be Judged," UPI (Washington), April 18, 1977.)
• Free Press In Jeopardy. A publisher has finally spoken out about the latest threat to press freedom: government restrictions on ownership of more than one newspaper. At the annual convention of the American Newspaper Publishers Association, president Joe D. Smith, Jr., publisher of a Louisiana paper, devoted his keynote address to the subject. "Just remember," said Smith, "a government which can tell you that you can own nine and not 10 can also deem you unqualified to own even one." Smith also noted the potential for subtle government control and intimidation inherent in such programs as wage and price controls and allocation of energy supplies. (Source: "Journalist Warns Against Regulation," AP (San Francisco), April 25, 1977.)
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Trends".