This month's cover story on police forces run by private, profit-making firms started out with a newspaper clipping sent in by an Ohio subscriber. Six years ago Bob Poole had looked into Scottsdale, Arizona's private fire department and written up the story for REASON (May 1976). Since Bob had kept in touch with the people at Rural/Metro Fire Department, Inc., he knew they had gotten involved in police work in a town in Arizona. So when we got the tip about a private police force in Ohio, we decided it was time to put a reporter onto the story to see how it works and what kind of opposition and objections these entrepreneurs face. Our investigator is Tad Gage, who covered St. Louis's private streets for our August 1981 issue.
Another journalism award has come REASON's way. Our June article on aircraft collision avoidance systems and the FAA, written by pilot John Doherty, has been given the Washington Monthly's June 1982 Journalism Award. The award is presented each month to the best newspaper or magazine article that "describe[s] how the political system really works,…why it succeeds, and why it fails." Congratulations, John.
Sometimes it's fun to say "We told you so." That's an experience we're having with increasing frequency here at REASON. In our January 1979 cover story on air safety, for example, we blamed the air traffic control system for the September 1978 midair collision between a light plane and a PSA 727 over San Diego. We got some angry letters over that one, pointing out that the official government finding was that pilot error was responsible. Well, in August the National Transportation Safety Board amended its original report, saying that faulty air traffic control procedures as well as crew error caused the accident.
Our October 1980 cover story pinpointed the blame for the Three Mile Island accident: faulty human factors design of the control room. That conclusion has now come to be the conventional wisdom on the subject, most recently reviewed in Andrew Pollack's "Technology" column in the New York Times.
Two of our more recent ideas are also picking up support. The Wall Street Journal reported on July 28 that Dr. John Bryant, the chief of the US delegation to the World Health Assembly in Geneva, has changed his mind on the idea that infant formula marketing practices overseas cause mothers to give up breast-feeding. During the WHO debate on a marketing code, Bryant asserted the conventional position. But now he says, "The rigid set of rules was based on scanty and not very convincing evidence that the marketing of formula contributes to the ill health of children"—exactly the point of our December 1981 analysis of the subject.
Finally, we note that California GOP gubernatorial candidate George Deukmejian has picked up another REASON idea: prisoners should work and pay for their upkeep (see "Making Good(s) Behind Bars," March). One of the major causes of recidivism, says Deukmejian, is that prisoners "have failed to develop a work ethic." He's proposing a prison work incentive program to attempt to do just that—and save the taxpayers money.
My travels in August and September took me far afield. In Memphis, I met with city officials concerned about the survival of the municipal transit system and made the case for deregulation and privatization, a case I repeated several weeks later to an enthusiastic audience in Denver. In both cities I also appeared on several radio and TV talk shows and was interviewed by the local newspapers. Shortly after my Memphis visit, the city legalized a private Dial-a-Van service whose application has been pending for many months and was subject to some controversy.
I also traveled to Zurich to attend the founding convention of Libertarian International, a coordinating group for freedom-oriented think tanks and political groups in more than a dozen countries (thus far).
What next?? First there was the attempt by the City of Oakland to use eminent domain to seize the Oakland Raiders football team and prevent it from moving to Los Angeles (see last month's issue). Now comes a report from Midland, Pennsylvania, that an activist group is trying to get the city to use eminent domain to seize a Colt Industries steel mill that the company wants to shut down. If this keeps up, maybe people will start questioning the entire concept of eminent domain.