Brickbats

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? The great thing about the federal government, of course, is that once a program proves itself successful, the ball really rolls. Take the US Synthetic Fuels Corporation. For a measly five or ten billion dollars a year, this efficient federal agency provides the best answer yet known to Washington for the Energy Crisis: reports on the Energy Crisis. Synthetic Fuels doesn't really produce energy for consumers, but it's come up with some excellent studies revealing why not.

Well, now that the model has been carved, it would be sheer lunacy for the feds not to cash in by applying it elsewhere, and h-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-r-r-r-r-r-r-e it comes: The Arid Lands Renewable Resources Corporation. A proposed government-funded operation in a new bill cosponsored by Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) and Barry Goldwater (R-same arid land) would "stimulate investment in guayule, jojoba, buffalo gourd and euphorbia—desert plants that yield either rubber or a substitute for crude oil." The "quasi-private corporation" would deal out "loans, loan guarantees, price guarantees and joint ventures to projects to grow these plants." There is no question that a country that can send a man to the moon—or put a Georgia bumpkin in the Oval Office—must have a crash program to develop its desert rot.

There are those relentless cynics who will snidely point out that this piece of legislation looks awful much like a special-interest pay-off to the desert landowners in the Great State of Arid-zone, yet a closer look at the facts will blow this right off the table. The taxpayers will subsidize, under this bill, not just the Desert of the Dry Southwest. According to the DeConcini-Goldwater "son of synfuels," every one of the 50 American states is defined as "arid"—"as are Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands."

? A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that drivers' education classes for high school students do not reduce the number of accidents among those who take them. As reported by the Washington Post, "These results back controversial studies that show drivers' education not only does not decrease accidents among 16 to 18 year olds, but actually may cause thousands of additional traffic deaths every year." The studies were attacked by "the professional association of drivers' education teachers." Natch.

? Auditoriums are filled with citizens (many of whom tote bulging portfolios) who are real concerned, even more than normally, about the fate of the American economic machine—and the one thing everybody wants to see is innovation. Especially Governor Brown, the forward-thinking, trail-blazing, consciousness-raising Californian who has done quite a bit of innovating on his own, particularly in the rapidly changing and ever-creative category of "campaign promises." And Jerry Brown is once more leading the way to The New: a bureaucracy for developing creative business ideas. (Jerry must have stolen a peek at the script of Mel Brooks's History of the World: Part II, 'cause this must be in there.) So sit back, relax, open a cool one.…California's Industrial Innovation Initiatives are now scheduled to be developed by the California Commission on Industrial Innovation. Bet you never guessed that the future could be so easy.

? Sullen news continues to emerge from the Motherland. The Britons are suffering through the worst riots since their last soccer game, and Lady Di fell into the barely bearable arms of the Prince of Wales, who hails from a bad neighborhood to simply live in, much less to have to protect a sissy title and all sorts of real property in. But the one really nifty ingenuity to sneak out of Crumpetland is the just-instituted payment policy for 700 building and maintenance tradespersons who "work" for the London Borough of Hackney. The government employees, it seems, were sloughing off. (This is terribly difficult for an American to even conceive of, but England is that country way over past Long Island where the streets are cold and the beer is warm, and it is a very, very different place from anything you've seen in the New World.) So, to solve this uniquely British problem of government goof-offs, the local officialdom handed each registered employee a bonus of 250 pounds. This, the advanced thinking went, would "raise morale" and thereby induce ever-greater strides in output per man hour. Some of the British press has condemned this move as the worst sort of idiocy on the part of the politicians, predicting that the principle of rewarding bad work with pay bonuses will backfire. Perhaps. But we mightn't be so hasty. Can you think how the health of our little country would rebound to robust vitality and blood-pumping exuberance if we were to put this incentive structure before the United States Congress for a decade or two?

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