Government intervention grows by leaps and bounds, and few people in business seem dedicated to the free market. Often the same ones who oppose OSHA and the FTC demand subsidies and regulations protecting their firms. Many people perceive business as just another special-interest group using a defense of the free market as a ruse to get rid of only the regulations it doesn't want. In a sense, business has become its own worst enemy and finds it increasingly difficult to make a credible defense.
David Boaz helped to set up the Council for a Competitive Economy to solve this problem. By uniting business organizations in a wholehearted support of the free market, he hopes to lend credibility to their call for less intervention. "The fact that the Council is a consistent defender of free enterprise," he says, "and never of special interests or privilege, helps assure that its voice is heard and respected."
Boaz, boyish-looking at 28, is already an old hand at politics. He has been publications director for Young Americans for Freedom and campaign director for Ed Clark when he ran as the Libertarian Party candidate for governor of California. During the last few years he has developed quite a reputation. Rumor has it that he can put together a press release in about a minute and that he scored 794 points out of 800 on his Law School Aptitude Test.
Asked why he became involved in the CCE, Boaz said: "I am particularly interested in economic issues, in freeing the economy, and I think that it is important that if we are ever going to do that, businessmen are going to have to fight for it. They are going to have to do it on the basis of principle. So the idea of an organization which would rally businessmen to a principled stand for the market was really exciting to me." Of course, "the chance to start it myself and really make a go of it on my own was an appealing aspect of it, too."
Serving as the council's executive director during its first year, he has built it up to five employees, a $350,000 yearly budget, and a few thousand members. It is already involved in a wide range of activities including lobbying and testifying before Congress, the publication of research reports examining regulations' effects, conferences, a speakers' bureau, and sponsoring ads about current issues in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and Newsweek and on radio stations around the country.
For starters, the CCE has dealt with trucking deregulation, the synthetic fuel program, and the Chrysler bailout. Boaz, with his characteristic dry sense of humor, notes that in support of trucking deregulation he "appeared at a White House press conference with the leading supporters of the free market—Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, and Alfred Kahn." Later he testified before Congress. He feels that the proposed legislation represents a good start but that "more deregulation of entry as well as price" is needed. And the council, he says, "has an opportunity to become a leading supporter of trucking deregulation."
Next Boaz commissioned a critique of Carter's synthetic fuel program by Sheldon Richman, which received an impressive response. "It was covered by several energy newsletters, things like the Energy Users Report, Energy Daily, and other industry publications. We had a lot of calls requesting copies of it from companies in the synthetic fuel business, companies that use energy, law firms, even a couple of people from the Department of Energy, and even a fellow from Energy Action [a left-wing consumerist organization]."
Representatives Ron Paul and John Rousselot and Senator William Proxmire, as well as other members of Congress, have shown interest in the council. Future activities include an analysis of how much the federal government subsidizes business—"That is the first cut that can be made in the federal budget," he says; making the case for unilateral reductions in trade barriers; and ending interest rate controls on savings accounts.
He has thought about why people in business act the way they do, concluding that many of them are more concerned with the short-run than with the long-run consequences of their actions. But he admits that "a lot of them simply want government planning and government subsidies. It is not a question of short term or long term. They are just for it." Others believe it is he who is taking a short-run view. "They know that ultimately we are either going to have a free economy or a planned economy, a centrally-run economy, but they are afraid to take a principled stand today because 'The important thing is, you have got to lower that tax by five percent right now. So we have to pretend to be socially responsible and all of these things right now.'"
Boaz decided to head the CCE when he left YAF in 1978. "I left the organization basically because I finally decided that if I was a libertarian, which I thought I was, then I didn't belong in the conservative movement. I was probably one of the later libertarians to discover that. I had continued to try to convince myself that conservatives really wanted economic freedom and weren't all that bad on some of the other issues, that the younger conservatives supported civil liberties and the repeal of victimless crime laws and we are all going the same direction on economics. But the longer I was there the more I decided that that just isn't the case. The issues that really interest the leaders of conservative organizations are not economic issues. They don't particularly want to work on free-market and lower-tax projects. They are interested in hawkish foreign policy and really in repression of other people's lifestyles."
After he left YAF he served for an "exciting three months" as campaign director for Ed Clark's 1978 gubernatorial race in California. "From the first day, I realized how much happier I was doing that. At last I was really working for what I did believe in, and I never regretted making that decision." Boaz found that "one of the exciting things about a Libertarian campaign is that you get to do a little bit of everything, since you have such a tiny staff." He "researched and wrote statements and speeches, issued the press releases, talked to the media, wrote the radio and television spots, directed our half-hour television program, stuffed all the envelopes, and took the mail down to the post office at night—everything there is to do."
David Boaz faces a difficult job now. As long as the government has the favors to give out, business will try to compete for them. But, as a council pamphlet states, "We have now reached a crisis."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Spotlight: Competition Booster".