SILVER LININGS ON ELECTION-DAY CLOUDS
Mario Cuomo, an otherwise unexceptional New York pol, made one memorable comment during the 1982 election season: "All political campaigns get involved in smoke and mirrors, but this is a cloud of unprecedented density." The cloud to which he referred extended far beyond the borders of New York State. Even so, there was some very encouraging news in the election results, often in the unglamorous but noteworthy initiatives and referenda that were voted on in several states.
There were instances where voters showed a healthy regard for preserving individual liberty. Midwestern bluenoses suffered defeats at the polls as Minnesotans voted to legalize parimutuel betting on horse racing, and North Dakotans approved a measure that will keep alive their legal right to play $2-a-hand blackjack. A well-publicized handgun control initiative failed in California. Less well known is the fact that voters in Nevada approved a constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to keep and bear arms "for security and defense, for lawful hunting and recreational use and for other lawful purposes." And New Hampshire voters approved a similar constitutional amendment by a resounding 72 percent.
Voters were generally far more suspicious of government spending boondoggles than they would have been even 10 or 20 years ago. Alaskans tossed out a proposal for an igloo Brasilia that would have meant the spending of as much as $2.84 billion to move their state capital from Juneau to a tiny town 580 miles away called Willow. In a slightly warmer climate, Dade County, Florida, voters voted by a two-to-one margin against a sales tax increase to finance construction of a new Orange Bowl.
The spirit of California's tax-cutting Proposition 13 didn't carry the day in every instance—indeed, in California itself, all five bond issues on the ballot passed—but there were some victories for proponents of tax decreases. Texans approved a proposal to repeal the last remaining statewide property tax. Idaho voters okayed a referendum that exempts from taxation 50 percent of the value of their residential property. And West Virginians passed a constitutional amendment that will base property taxes on 60 percent of the property's assessed value, thus nullifying an earlier decision by the West Virginia Supreme Court. Ohioans declined an opportunity to raise their state sales tax by a penny to finance 150-mph bullet trains connecting the state's largest cities.
Happily, some obnoxious interferences with the free market bit the dust in November as well. A proposal in Washington State to limit consumer interest rates to 12 percent was turned down by voters, and in four states, measures that would have required deposits on soft drink and beer bottles were defeated.
So even clouds of unprecedented density can have their silver linings. Incidentally, Cuomo, hardly the most liberty oriented candidate in the country, ultimately had little reason to complain: he's now the governor-elect of New York.
CHOOSE YOUR PHONE SYSTEM
There are phones in your future—multiple phones. For the first time since about 1910, when exclusive franchises were granted to local telephone companies, we're about to have a choice of local phone systems again. That's the word from no less an authority than Business Week, whose October 11 cover story profiled these explosive telecommunications developments.
First of all, 21 companies are now seeking permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to build what are being called "digital termination services"—microwave and radio-based local communications systems designed to connect homes or businesses to long-distance voice or data services. The firms include Graphic Scanning, GTE, Isacomm, ITT, MCI, RCA, Satellite Business Systems, Tymnet, and Western Union.
Another approach is to use fiber optics to connect local customers to satellite long-distance services. That's what Merrill Lynch and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey plan to do with their $300-million Teleport project on Staten Island. Teleport will harbor 17 earth station dish antennas serving 22 or more satellites. Using a network of fiber optic cables, it will link Manhattan's financial district, Jersey City's business district, and eventually even Long Island, southern New Jersey, and Albany to the earth stations. Initially only large firms will have their own fiber optic "tail," with others having to rely on local phone lines. But eventually, says Merrill Lynch's Stan Welland, every home could tie in directly via cable TV lines, bypassing the phone company completely.
The third alternative is the soon-to-begin cellular radio technology. Initially limited by the FCC to two companies per city—the existing phone company plus one radio common carrier—the cellular systems will aim first at the huge pent-up demand for mobile phones. The initial walkie-talkie-size units cost about $2,000. But soaring demand, fierce competition, and microcircuit technology are likely to yield rapid reductions in both size and cost—for example, to $100 wrist radios à la Dick Tracy. At that point, competitive pressures will very likely make a legislated duopoly unsustainable, and a real free market will be permitted.
Given these competitive realities, keeping the poor local telephone companies under rate-of-return regulation is a prescription for disaster. The last thing they need is to have to clear each pricing and service decision with a big-brother regulator. Telephone investors ought to face the reality that what their newly spun-off firms need most is freedom to compete.
LET A HUNDRED MAIL CARRIERS BLOOM
Sylvia Porter has joined the ranks of the converted.
Porter, a widely syndicated columnist and one of the most respected authorities in the country on personal finance, "finally exploded" a few months ago when a first-class letter mailed to her 8th Street address in New York City from 38th Street took 11 days to arrive. She wrote in her column, "Why does Congress still give the Postal Service a monopoly on delivering first-class mail? Why not find out what would happen if we open up this business to competition, as we have with package delivery, express mail, and delivery of newspapers, magazines, and advertising material?"
Porter is not alone. As the state postal monopoly on first-class mail continues to infuriate more and more of its customers, and as the contrast between the quality of parcel-post mail delivery and private-sector package delivery grows more stark, sentiment for doing away with the monopolistic private express statutes is increasing.
Columnist Donald Lambro, for example, has pointed out that in addition to lousy service, the statutes have indirectly restricted growth of the job market at a time of high unemployment. "One of the major growth industries in recent years," Lambro wrote, "has been the express-mail and package delivery business, which has created new employment for skilled and unskilled labor. But entrepreneurs who have in the past tried to enter the first-class mail business, offering to deliver the mail more efficiently and cheaply, have been driven out of the marketplace by the government."
Federal Trade Commission chairman James C. Miller has joined the chorus. He testified before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress: "Repealing the private express statutes would essentially force the USPS to reform its rate structure and improve its operations, or go out of business." And the Justice Department during the Carter administration issued a report criticizing the postal monopoly on antitrust grounds.
A new voice has recently joined the swelling chorus of Porter, Lambro, Miller, and company—the National Health Federation. As the only show in town, the Postal Service claims and exercises a little-known right to ban from the mails publications it considers objectionable. It has prohibited the mailing of a booklet called Stale Food vs. Fresh Food because "the representations of the booklet were contrary to the weight of informed medical and scientific opinion. "But as Maureen Salaman of the federation told Libertarian Forum, "The 'weight of informed medical and scientific opinion' once held that the earth was flat, that the sun revolved around the earth, that 'bleeding' a sick person was a cure for illness.…Where new ideas have been suppressed, the growth of human knowledge has stagnated."
Salaman's arguments get short shrift from the Postal Service power seekers, however. Indeed, they regularly monitor a number of publications sent through the mails, eager for an opportunity to pounce. They are also looking forward to enjoying expanded powers to regulate the content of mailed materials if two companion bills, sponsored in the House by Rep. Claude Pepper (D–Fla.) and in the Senate by David Pryor (D–Ark.) and endorsed by the Reagan administration, are passed.
According to Salaman, however, the real issue cuts deeper than the Pryor-Pepper legislation. After the fight against those bills has ended, she proposes "to get a bill through Congress abolishing the government monopoly on postal service, so that never again will would-be Thought Police be able to come so close to eliminating freedom of choice and freedom of thought in the land of the free."
It is some small comfort to realize that the Postal Service is not totally oblivious to its opposition. The chairman of Postal Service board of governors, Robert L. Hardesty, recently fumed that repeal of the private-express statutes would lead to a game of "Russian roulette" (a peculiar metaphor, since free markets are not yet common Russian practice, and mailing a letter via a private-sector carrier might very well be considerably less of a gamble than with the USPS). Hardesty warned that if the private-express statutes are repealed, the "postal system as we know it today would be destroyed."
To which millions of irate customers might respond, "Is that a promise?"
ICBMS: DEFENSE IS NO LONGER BLUE-SKY
The campaign to shift the focus of US strategic programs from offense to defense has attained several milestones. In October the Reagan administration proposed spending $7 billion over the next five years on ballistic missile defense. Included in the plans are both point defense of missile silos and long-range systems to intercept and destroy enemy warheads, using nonnuclear kill mechanisms, both in space and in the atmosphere.
In addition, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger has endorsed the concept of space-based defense against ICBMS using laser weapons. Aviation Week (Sept. 27) reported a meeting between Weinberger and Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R–Wyo.), the leading congressional advocate of space-based defense. According to Wallop's account of the meeting, Weinberger acknowledged that long-term strategic needs will require a shift from an offensive to a defensive strategy. Based on technical briefings during the meeting, Wallop reported that there is no longer any argument that the United States could, within five years, deploy a 5-megawatt laser weapon in space that would be effective against current (nonhardened) Soviet missiles and high-altitude aircraft. Further, the capability exists to build a 10-megawatt system that could overcome hardened targets.
Under current plans and funding, no actual demonstration laser weapon could be in orbit before 1990, according to the Defense Department. But several years could be sliced from that timetable with increased funding or crash-program efforts. Wallop reported that several aerospace firms have offered to provide subsystems on a fixed-price basis, in order to accelerate the feasibility demonstration. Whether the Defense Department will agree to this remains to be seen.
UNITED NATIONS RUNS AGROUND
On October 27 the New York Times reported that a trade school near Beirut run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency had been used as a training center for nearly 800 PLO guerrillas for over two years. That revelation only served to underscore the rapidly growing disillusionment with the UN that's abroad in the land.
The United Nations' extreme politicization, double standards (condemning South Africa far more than the USSR, for example), and support for both censorship (the New World Information Order) and global collectivism (the New International Economic Order) have been taking their toll. Supplying the media with a steady stream of anti-UN material has been the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a think-tank with many Reagan administration connections.
October alone saw three major blasts at the international organization. UPI reporter Peter Costa led off a long article on the UN by noting that its two main bodies—the General Assembly and Security Council—"are roundly disrespected and universally ignored." A few days later, columnist William Safire suggested that the United States withdraw and ask the UN to relocate overseas. A week later, columnist Jenkin Lloyd Jones reviewed the UN's record and pronounced the organization a failure. "Some day a new organization may have to be tried, based on responsibility, at least moderate human rights, and a collective determination to make raw aggression profitless," he concluded. "We thought we had it in '45, but we were wrong."
THE DRUGGED-UP COURT SYSTEM
That fine theorist of individual liberty Fats Waller wrote a song some years ago that begins: "If I should take a notion to jump into the ocean/It ain't nobody's business if I do." Devotees of individual freedom have since pointed out that jumping into the ocean may or may not be advisable; but since jumping would not entail Waller coercing or defrauding others, the choice should properly be Waller's, without any interference from the state or anyone else.
The same principle can be applied to other victimless crimes such as drug use. Overwrought defenders of drug-prohibition laws may claim that these laws are all that prevents millions of Americans from becoming heroin addicts and running amok. But ironically, the fact is that not only are these laws ethically questionable, as Wallerites would argue, but they are dangerously counterproductive. It is not exaggerating to say that they are a significant cause of a near-paralysis of the entire criminal justice system in America.
The crisis is real enough. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, attorney Judd Burstein recently noted that 24 percent of the more than 12,000 felony cases pending in New York City have been languishing on the dockets for eight months or even longer, and the city's jails are operating at 110 percent of capacity. With this state of affairs, Burstein wrote, "plea bargaining, rather than the search for truth, is the order of the day. When it comes time to sentence a guilty and perhaps dangerous defendant, the overcrowding in jails has become a deterrent against required incarceration." In view of the fact that a staggering 22 percent of the almost 40,000 people indicted by the government in 1981 were charged with drug violations, Burstein seems entirely justified when he argues, "Society simply can no longer afford this drain on both courts' time and governments' financial resources. Decriminalization of drugs would remove these cases from the system and thereby greatly ease pressures on the courts."
There would be other practical advantages to decriminalization of drugs besides those Burstein cites. The legal prohibition of drugs—like the prohibition of alcohol 60 years ago—hasn't eliminated the market for the drugs; it just makes them more expensive. A new Justice Department-funded study of criminal subcultures by Rand Corporation researchers Jan and Marcia Chaiken found evidence to support the view that as the price of addictive drugs rises, the number of property crimes committed by addicts to finance their drug usage rises accordingly.
The ethical case for doing away with victimless crimes such as drug use has been compelling for a long time. As the Burstein article and Chaiken study illustrate, the practical benefits of such a policy change are becoming more and more attractive.
CHARGING WHAT THE TRAFFIC WILL BEAR
For many years economists have pointed out that if only we could somehow charge prices for road use, we'd alleviate rush-hour jams and match up demand and supply (see "Rush-Hour Remedy," REASON, Jan. 1982). The big hang-up has always been how to do so without creating even more congestion and annoyance (as would be the case if toll booths were added to urban expressways).
Technology has now come to the rescue. A Santa Cruz, California, electronics company, Identronix, Inc., has come up with a custom memory chip that would allow electronic "tolls" to be charged automatically as cars pass a given spot on the road. Those tolls could be quite high at busy times and much lower at nonbusy times. Thus, they would both raise revenue to pay for the road and deter excessive rush-hour use.
The Identronix device is a read-only memory chip containing a unique identity code. When interrogated by a radio frequency scanner, the chip "burps" back its identity number, to be picked up by an antenna and fed to a central billing computer. The chip is powered by the incoming radio signal and therefore needs no power supply.
The chips are not yet in use for roadway pricing. Originally developed to keep track of cattle on the open range (as an alternative to branding), their principal use at present is on the General Motors assembly line. The system has been installed in three new GM assembly plants to uniquely identify each chassis, so that robots will automatically perform the appropriate assembly actions to turn it into the desired Caprice station wagon, for example, rather than an Impala sedan. Identronix is also hoping to sell the railroads on the system for automatic freight-car location.
But the assembly-line use suggests the chips' ultimate utility for highway pricing systems. If every new car were factory-equipped with a read-only chip containing the car's Vehicle Identification Number, then nationwide roadway pricing systems would be a snap. And in such high-volume production (5 to 10 million a year), the chips would cost only $5 each. So the technology for road pricing is here. Now all we need is the political will to put it to use.
WORKING ALIENS' LAWS DON'T WORK
The government's approach to the problem of illegal aliens has been similar to battling mosquitoes with a surface-to-air missile: the noise may be impressive, but the vaunted cure is unrelated to the problem.
The Reagan administration has already come up with such wonderful concoctions as "Operation Jobs," a dramatically ineffective series of raids on factories and other workplaces across the country, and the Omnibus Immigration Control Act, which would permit the president to declare an "immigration emergency," close any harbor or airport in the country, and exclude entry of any alien (presumably including French tourists who wanted to see the Statue of Liberty that their ingenuous ancestors gave us).
Currently in fashion is the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill. This legislation, which has already passed the Senate, would clamp down on illegal immigrants by penalizing businesses that hire them. It has won the opposition of groups ranging from the Chamber of Commerce to the American Civil Liberties Union. And a recent General Accounting Office report requested by the bill's cosponsor, Sen. Alan Simpson (R–Wyo.), indicates that this opposition is richly deserved—something of an embarrassment for its requester.
According to the report, laws establishing penalties for employers of illegal aliens have generally been a flop in other countries where the idea has been tried. Questionnaires sent to officials of 20 nations, as well as follow-up visits to Canada, France, Switzerland, and West Germany, show a consistent pattern.
Canadian employers are subject to fines of $4,000 plus two years' imprisonment for "knowingly" employing illegal aliens—yet the Royal Canadian Mounted Police estimates that between 500,000 and 1 million illegal aliens are in Canada, most of them gainfully employed. Even officials in Switzerland, which boasts some of Europe's toughest immigration laws, concede that "tens of thousands" of aliens are alive and well in their nation. To add insult to injury, Japan—which has no employer sanctions whatever—has very little illegal immigration, only about 50,000 to 60,000 people, and a large number of those are said to be bar hostesses and nightclub dancers.
A Wall Street Journal editorial attacking the Simpson-Mazzoli bill points out that the results of employer sanctions in the United States would probably be even more dismal than in Europe. "Attitudes toward illegal aliens are especially ambivalent [here]," it observes. "There is widespread sympathy for individual illegals, and…our law enforcement agencies have much more serious problems to worry about than employers whose only crime is to hire someone who wants to work."
As the Journal says, in the wake of the GAO report, "the fundamental premise of the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill has been shattered." Good riddance.
CORRECTIONS UNDER CONTRACT
About 18 months ago Rand Corporation researcher Peter Greenwood excoriated government-run prisons as failures. "There is absolutely no reason," he concluded in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, "why the operation of our prisons could not be contracted out, and there are plenty of reasons to believe the job would be done better, at less cost."
That prediction is being put to the test, in a modest way, in Florida. On September 1, operation of the Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee was turned over to the Jack and Ruth Eckerd Foundation. The 10-month, $4.2 million contract promises cost savings of 10 percent for the 400–500-bed juvenile detention facility.
Perhaps more important is what the West Palm Beach Post calls "the approach and attitudes" of the Foundation. Freed of red tape and bureaucracy, it is introducing new trade and vocational programs, restoring a 24-hour counseling and supervision program of "cottage parents," and bringing in experienced counselors from the Foundation's (private) wilderness camps for delinquents.
The Eckerd contract is just the latest development in the little-noticed trend toward contracting out the operation of correctional facilities. According to Ted Nissen of Span, Inc.—which operates work furlough centers under contract to the California Department of Corrections—about 200 minimum-security halfway houses around the country are being operated under contract by nonprofit and for-profit firms. The advantages of such contracts are both cost savings and the freedom to innovate.
As correctional programs come under increasing scrutiny for being costly and ineffective, the trend toward contracting should accelerate. Notes Greenwood: "If private agencies can run government-funded hospitals, drug- and alcohol-treatment programs, and job-training programs, they can run prisons, too."
GREAT BRITAIN BUMPS INTO GREAT SPENDING
The British government's in-house think tank has seen the future—and doesn't like it one bit. Despite the fact that the Thatcher government was elected on a platform of shrinking the size of the state, if present spending plans continue, government spending will consume 47 percent of the nation's gross domestic product by 1990, six percent above the share when Thatcher took office in 1979. Moreover, under the worst-case economic assumptions, the spending increase would be even worse—to as much as 60 percent of GDP by 1990, according to Sir Geoffrey Howe, chancellor of the exchequer.
Clearly, concluded the Central Policy Review Staff, something has to give. Since four areas account for the lion's share of government spending, the government can no longer afford to put off making such hard decisions as:
• Education: End state funding for colleges and universities, providing only a limited amount of scholarships and loans. Even primary and secondary schools could be privatized, with government providing education vouchers to parents.
• Social Security: Stop indexing benefit payments to keep pace with inflation.
• Health: Replace national health insurance with private insurance.
• Defense: Beyond the mid-1980s, freeze defense's share of GDP.
Reaction to the think tank paper was explosive, with centrist cabinet members ("wets") vehemently opposed. REASON's British correspondent Eben Wilson reports that the wets were so furious over the recommendations that they succeeded in having any mention of them stricken from the record of the September 9 cabinet meeting at which the paper was discussed. It was, nevertheless, promptly leaked to the Economist, which published a one-page summary.
Concluded Wilson: "The think-tank paper shows one major significant fact, and that is that the intellectual argument has been won within the Treasury and indeed within a faction of the cabinet, although not enough to blow the Tory party into true free-market policies. But it is encouraging; the arguments at last seem to have arrived at the right place—that is, can we afford the welfare state, and is it philosophically a good idea? That seems to me to be the trend change that we have not seen before."
CASHING IN ON DEREGULATION
In October, Congress passed and the president signed a bill called the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act that may substantially change the American financial industry—somewhat for the worse, but mainly for the better.
For consumers, perhaps the most important reform in Garn-St. Germain is that banks and S&Ls will now be able to be more competitive with money market funds. As soon as a few administrative details are worked out, these institutions will be able to offer deposit accounts that pay market interest rates (the interest rates won't be regulated by the government, as is already the case with money funds) and offer limited checking account features, as well. Customers will be able to write up to three checks against the account each month and can authorize three automatic transfers. There may be a minimum balance requirement of up to $5,000, but at this writing even that is up in the air.
Another reform contained in Garn-St. Germain, expected eventually to be a big plus for small business, is that thrift institutions will now be able to make commercial loans totaling up to 10 percent of their assets. Small businesses stand to benefit from this because they will no longer be totally dependent on their local banks for credit. With thrift institutions in the market, the options for small business could increase and the price of credit could very well decline. Allan G. Bortel of Shearson/American Express told the New York Times: "There is a lot of room to compete. If small banks are charging their business borrowers one or two percentage points above the prime, the thrifts could charge less and still make money."
Treasury Secretary Donald Regan, a supporter of the Garn-St. Germain bill, told the Dealer Bank Association in a speech soon after it was signed: "You're in the competition. This is what you wanted." But if the truth be told, the competition is less than pure. According to the Wall Street Journal, the legislation provides lavish subsidies for about 1,000 of the nation's 3,500 federally insured S&Ls in the form of promissory notes from the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation, which insures deposits up to $100,000. Those thrift institutions that are on the rocks will be able to use this scheme to stave off insolvency at government expense.
On balance, however, the Garn-St. Germain package deregulates more than it regulates and is overall a reduction in government intrusion in the financial industry. In the short term, analysts are predicting a disruptive effect for institutions accustomed to the old set of rules; but in the long term, the financial industry—and, in turn, the economy—should be strengthened.
OF MARX AND MEN
Being a communist dictator in Eastern Europe has never been all fun and games. If you've spent much of your professional life reading Marx and you have just the right ideas for transforming your nation into a socialist utopia, you're hardly going to have a nice day—or a nice decade, for that matter—when your carefully conceived plans go awry.
Unfortunately for the people who live there, state economic planning has in fact gone awry more often than not in Eastern Europe. Fortunately, however, the last few years have seen a remarkable change in the economic climate: in every nation except Albania, a degree of economic freedom is now being permitted that would have been inconceivable in the days of Stalin.
The country that has made the boldest reforms has been Hungary. Since 1968, the Janos Kadar regime has implemented some decidedly non-Marxist policies. It has, for example, stressed the setting of prices that reflect supply and demand; permitted incentives for local decisionmaking, even to the extent of allowing firms to go bankrupt; increased wage differentials based on productivity; broken up large state monopolies and set up smaller public and private firms in their place; and reduced export subsidies and tariffs.
Probably the most striking reforms, though, have been in agriculture. The New York Times reports that more than 70 percent of Hungarian farmland is tilled by 1,360 cooperatives whose members own a share of the common land and enjoy the right to private plots of a little more than an acre. It is these private plots that have been spectacularly productive, accounting for 40 percent of national poultry output and 65 percent of national pork production.
Even the state farms dabble in free marketeering from time to time. Typically, when a blackberry crop at one state farm was threatened because harvesting does not lend itself to mechanization, some employees leased the right to pick berries and sell the fruit back to the state at a prearranged price. After the cost of the lease and a fee for the use of state equipment were deducted, the 125 workers made a profit of $550 to $1,100 apiece.
As an agricultural economist near Budapest told the Times, "Everyone, including Kadar, keeps his nose out of agriculture." It's really no accident, then, that while the more orthodox Soviet Union is coping with still another poor grain harvest, the Hungarian wheat yield will approach its 1980 record of 14 million tons and its vineyards will make possible one of the highest levels of wine production in recent years. Nor is it an accident that within 10 years, Hungary went from being a grain importer to a grain exporter.
Even Leonid Brezhnev, not ordinarily considered a wild-eyed capitalist radical, has taken note. The Economist reports that he singled out Hungarian policy for praise at the Soviet party congress last year, and official Soviet agriculture policy is now to encourage private farm plots, despite a powerful lobby in the Kremlin for more giant state-run agricultural-industrial complexes.
"What does it all amount to?" the Economist asks. "A light breeze that may blow away a few cobwebs while leaving the heavy furniture of the 'command economy' intact? Or is there a genuine wind of change blowing through eastern Europe, pushing it towards a mixed economy and thus perhaps eventually towards a measure of political pluralism?" The Economist concludes it's still too early to tell.
ENFORCING SPEED LIMITS ENDANGERS LIVES
Would you believe that heavy enforcement of the federally imposed 55-mph speed limit has increased the number of auto-accident deaths? That startling conclusion seems to emerge from the data. Furthermore, there's actually a sound causal connection.
As Roger Johnson noted recently in the Washington Times (Sept. 28), highway death rates increased steadily during the tenure of 55-mph-limit enthusiast Joan Claybrook at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The year before Claybrook took over, 45,500 people died; in her last year, 51,100 were wiped out in auto accidents. Yet last year, with Raymond Peck at NHTSA, deaths dropped by 1,500 and appear to be declining further this year. It's not the fault of the recession either, since highway travel has increased.
What's happened is a shift in emphasis and funding. While Claybrook's NHTSA poured money into radar units for speed-limit enforcement, Peck's NHTSA has focused on helping states go after drunk drivers. Since most speed-limit violations occur on the heavily used—but much safer—interstate highways, that's where the earlier speed-limit efforts focused. Maryland, for example, received extra federal funds for a speeding crackdown in 1980. Yet traffic deaths that year increased by 10 percent. By contrast, with this year's shift toward drunk-driving enforcement, Maryland traffic deaths are down by 30 percent.
The bottom line is that police resources are limited. Concentrating troopers on the interstates will lead to a lot of speeding tickets (and revenues!)—but will divert manpower from local roads where drunks pose a frequent menace. Transportation expert Martin Wohl of Carnegie-Mellon warned about overzealous speed-limit enforcement in 1977—but nobody at NHTSA listened. Although NHTSA is doing somewhat better today, the Republicans seem to have forgotten their 1980 platform pledge to abolish the 55-mph limit. Perhaps now that the safety argument has been debunked and energy prices have stabilized, the issue can once again be raised.
Rocky Mountain fight. In October, the Mountain States Legal Foundation filed suit in federal district court challenging the constitutionality of the City of Denver's award to Mile Hi Cablevision of a de facto exclusive permit to provide cable TV services in Denver. "Government control over cable has far-reaching, potentially Orwellian, implications," said William H. Mellor III, who heads the conservative public-interest law firm. Mountain States is challenging the city-awarded monopoly on First Amendment grounds for stifling the free flow of information.
Dutch drug store. The Netherlands has approved the sale of government-tested marijuana and hashish at a youth center in the town of Enschede. Authorized dealers can sell small quantities of hashish products inside the center. But the dealers are forbidden to advertise, and the drugs must be tested by the government for quality and purity.
Nude ban stripped. The California Supreme Court has declared that a Santa Clara County ordinance prohibiting nude dancing in public places except for "theatrical performances" is unconstitutional. The Santa Clara County puritans apparently "went too far in permitting the exclusion of all nude entertainment, some of which enjoys First Amendment protection," the court said.
Street smarts. Some 21 residents of Courtland Place, a two-block area in Houston, have bought their street from the city government for $103,115. The residents are responsible for the street's maintenance, and although the city still has the right to enter the street for routine maintenance of other facilities, the street now belongs to the people who live on it.
Daft draft. The Reagan administration's Military Manpower Task Force has concluded, after 14 months of study, that the all-volunteer armed force is so successful that it is unnecessary to return to a peacetime draft so long as the volunteer military maintains "reasonably comparable pay" with the civilian sector and offers a host of bonuses and special incentives.
Free market upheld. In a six-way race for the presidency of their country, the voters of Sri Lanka have returned to office the incumbent, Junius R. Jayewardene, who has moved the island nation much closer to a free-market economy. His main opponent was former agriculture minister Hector Kobbekaduwa, who was advocating socialist policies akin to those of the Indira Gandhi government to the north.
Super filing cabinet. In the wake of a REASON article on New York City subways ("Selling the Subways," May), the Metropolitan Transportation Authority called for proposals on how the mouldering and unused tunnels of the uncompleted Second Avenue subways might be put to good use after a decade. Vital Records, Inc., of Raritan, N.J., is now considering renting the tunnels and converting them into "the world's largest filing cabinet" (they would use conveyor belts to distribute documents). This would eventually be far cheaper than housing documents in expensive Manhattan office space.
California GOP gets with it. The Republican Party of California passed a resolution in September calling for "disposition into private ownership of those government lands for which there is no justifiable public purpose"—except for parks and wilderness areas.