Looking Back: A REASON Retrospective

From issues covered to people published, highlights from 164 REASONs


Nurturing New Voices

"The great virtue of REASON," wrote Alan Reynolds in the July 1978 issue, "has been its willingness to open its pages to a reasonably broad variety of interpretations of applied libertarian thought and to serve as an entry point for new writers." Alan ought to know. He first published in REASON in July 1971, when he was working at J.C. Penney's and studying toward a master's degree in economics at Sacramento State College. His article was noticed, and by the end of that year he had been taken on by National Review as economics editor.

Alan has continued to write for REASON over the years, including a several-year stint as a Viewpoint columnist, where he delightfully debunked some of the economic nonsense about in the land. He moved on from NR to work as an economic analyst for several firms. He is now at Polyconomics with Jude Wanniski and has become one of the principal exponents of supply-side economics, appearing frequently on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. His latest contribution to REASON was "Honest Money" (Jan.).

Other writers, too, have gone on from an early debut in REASON. Paul Craig Roberts, another supply-sider who frequently graces the pages of the Wall Street Journal, first appeared in REASON in August 1973 with "The New Imperialists," which was reprinted in Human Events. He has contributed to REASON regularly over the years, on subjects ranging from Third World economic policies and the real cause of inflation to the energy crisis and Marxist thought. He served as assistant Treasury secretary in the first year of the Reagan administration and was interviewed in our pages in August 1982. His review of David Calleo's Imperious Economy is featured in this month's book section.

Several other REASON contributors signed on with the Reagan team in the hopes of effecting good things. John McClaughry, featured in our January 1976 Spotlight, first wrote for us in October of that year. He and Doug Bandow, who authored his first REASON article, "Barring Competition," in May 1980, worked on Reagan's domestic policy staff until it became clear that pragmatism was the order of the day. (Doug is now editor of, to paraphrase Johnny Carson, "another magazine." Actually, we're friendly—in fact, he's continued to write for REASON. You'll find his name on Inquiry's masthead.)

Murray Weidenbaum appeared in REASON in October 1976 with "Fuel for Bureaucrats…Or People?"—an early case against federal subsidies for synfuels development. As Reagan's first chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), Weidenbaum was a forceful advocate of deregulation. He revealed the difficulties facing reformers in a REASON interview in September 1981. And a present member of the CEA, William Niskanen, argued "The President Is Not Our Leader" back in January 1979.

Among other people picked up on early by REASON: In August 1978 we published an article by one Dr. W. Phillip Gramm, an economics professor at Texas A&M, who for the benefit of our readers punctured some common myths about "scarce resources." Phil Gramm just won reelection to Congress as a Republican after surviving as a Boll Weevil Democrat was proving difficult.

We've been publishing Bruce Bartlett since 1976. The author in 1981 of Reaganomics, Bruce is now deputy director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress. Our July 1981 Spotlight featured Lewis Lehrman. He subsequently became well known when he ran (nearly successfully) for the governorship of New York on a slash-spending platform.

Finally, to return to Alan Reynolds's pat on our back for opening our pages to unknowns, we're pleased that some of our writers have also blossomed in the world of journalism. Mike McMenamin, a Cleveland attorney whose first piece of journalism, "Milk, Money, and Monopoly," appeared in REASON in March 1976, has continued to expose political wrongs in our pages and has branched out to other magazines as well. His investigative article "Subverting the First Amendment" appeared in our January issue. Tom Hazlett first started popping up in REASON in 1976 also, and now his articles appear all over the place. Patrick Cox took over the Spotlight column in September 1980, the same issue in which he authored an investigative piece on the crushing of an individualist revolution in the New Hebrides. Like Tom, Patrick has a solid background in economics and has become one of our frequent and reliable journalists. He is also appearing regularly now in USA Today.

Unsung here, but not unappreciated, are all the other contributors to REASON over the years. Many of them are not writers by profession. Heaven knows they've not written for us for rich financial rewards. We've enjoyed working with them and bringing their labors of love to the REASON audience.

Keeping Ahead of the News

Favoring Free Flight
Back in September 1969, with "Fly the Frenzied Skies" by Bob Poole, REASON first made a case for deregulation of the airlines. Bob had long had an interest in aviation (his father was an engineer for Eastern Airlines) and had had occasion to see the stultifying effects of regulation (he'd seen Eastern's request for a route from Florida to California turned down time and again by the Civil Aeronautics Board—keeping him from getting a free trip to Disneyland!—and had been following Aviation Week's reports on CAB decisions). So he researched the issue for his 1969 article and continued to follow the halting moves toward deregulation in Trends. In January 1978 Michael McMenamin detailed for readers the surprising role of big-government Sen. Ted Kennedy in achieving deregulation. It took a whole decade, but deregulation came, and REASON has continued in Trends and articles ("Spreading Wings Across America" by Peter Samuel, Jan. 1982) to track the effects.

Delivering Electricity Jolts
One of the issues unique to REASON has been an exploration of the possibility and desirability of competition among utilities. In June 1974 Bob Poole wrote a charming story, looking back from 1984, "How Free Enterprise Returned to the Electric Power Industry." When we learned that there actually are competing utilities in Lubbock, Texas, and other communities in the United States, we put a reporter onto the story. The result, "Two Utilities Are Better Than One" by Jan Bellamy in October 1981, won first place in the John Hancock Awards for Excellence. Today, nearly 10 years after our hopeful scenario for 1984, the idea of demonopolizing local utilities is being seriously considered by policymakers.

Mapping the Zoning Alternatives
When Chicago attorney Bernard Siegan (now a law professor at the University of San Diego) published Land Use Without Zoning in 1973, he was a voice crying in the wilderness—almost. We'd started covering his research of nonzoning with a Trends item in March 1971. We interviewed Siegan in April 1973 and published "Houston Defies the Planners…and Thrives" by Dick Bjornseth in February 1978. Trends items have kept our readers abreast of court cases and further studies.

Lately, major media have awakened to the Houston scene—with, predictably, calls for changing the situation. But the case against zoning is persuasive, and as we note in this month's Trends, even a local politician has conceded that it would make sense to do away with the beast.

Flaying Power Politics
In another early issue—February 1971—REASON predicted shortages of oil and gas if government continued its long-standing intervention in the energy resources market. Government continued, and when the energy crisis hit, precipitated by the Arab oil embargo, we started publishing a steady stream of analyses (such as "Bureaucratic Conspiracy and the Energy Crisis" by Paul Craig Roberts and N. Van Cott, Dec. 1974, and "Energy Crisis: Made in Washington" by Alan Reynolds, March 1977), backed up by advice as to a solution: decontrol. Government finally did (more or less); and lo and behold, there is no energy crisis today. But we don't claim special powers of prediction—just sensitivity to the laws of supply and demand.

Driving Home the People's Alternative
Already in "The Slum Beneath Boston" in February 1969, REASON was exposing the horrors of government-run, massively subsidized mass transit. In May 1982, Peter Samuel reported on the frightful decline of the New York subways and an economist's proposal to sell them off to private investors.

On a parallel track, we've reported over the years on what we in July 1980 dubbed "alternative transit: the people's answer to government boondoggles"—jitneys, cabs, etc. We started in February 1972 with Sandi Rosenbloom's "Taxis and Jitneys: The Case for Deregulation," which Milton Friedman later referred to in a Newsweek column. We kept it up with various Trends notes and articles over the years.

Major cities are finally seeing the wisdom of deregulating taxi service and giving jitneys a green light. And we were pleased to learn recently that REASON directly inspired former Seattle city council member Randy Revelle to push, successfully, for deregulation of that city's taxis.

Fanning the Flames of Competition
Yes, Virginia, even fire fighting can be done privately, as we've noted since a very early—January 1971—Trends mention of the firm Rural/Metro in Scottsdale, Arizona. Editor Poole was so intrigued by it that he followed up with a full-blown article, "Fighting Fires for Profit," in May 1976—a story that led to 60 Minutes coverage of Rural/Metro in 1978. When we discovered a new twist—competing fire-fighting firms serving the same area, near Grants Pass, Oregon—we got the scoop for "Feet to the Fire" by Gaines Smith, published in March.

Charting the Private Air Way
In "The Airport Crisis and How to Solve It" in April 1973, law professor Michael Levine argued the advantages of market pricing of airport landing slots. As a CAB official in the late '70s, Levine was an architect of that agency's deregulatory moves and proposed even more "radical" reforms to bring not just freedom but pricing into the picture. The best is yet to be, however. (Today Levine is president of a deregulation-spawned airline—New York Air.)

In Trends ranging from "Ending the Aviation Rip-Off" (Dec. 1973) to "Airports—Cutting the Apron Strings" (July 1982), REASON has been calling for an end to government subsidies to and protection of the aviation industry. In a major article in January 1979—"Is This Any Way to Run an Air Way?"—Editor Poole recounted how government got into the business of air traffic control and aviation safety and proceeded to show how air travelers would be better served were the private sector to handle these matters.

Following Private Police
Even security, we've noted over the years, can be and is provided by private firms. Back in 1972 we published "Rent-a-Sheriff" by noted political scientist and author James Q. Wilson. In an August 1979 article, Christine Dorffi reported on a private service in San Francisco that offers protection where the municipal force doesn't meet the citizens' needs. And in an investigative piece last November, "Cops, Inc.," reporter Tad Gage took readers to Reminderville, Ohio, to see what happened when the town decided to contract out provision of policing services to a private firm.

Plumbing the Sea Treaty
We've been exposing the insidious common-property premise of the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty since 1969. In December of that year, in his second contribution to REASON, Bob Poole penned "The Wave of the Future, the Future of Waves." The article was reprinted the next year in the Freeman. With Trends notes and editorials over the years, we've kept our readers aware of the serious issues involved. Most recently, in "Sink the Floating OPEC" in October 1982, Doug Bandow, who had been a US representative to the Third UN Conference on the treaty, explained the Reagan administration's opposition to it.

Expanding the Space Horizon
Long before the Percheron exploded over the Gulf of Mexico and the idea of private space entrepreneurs burst upon the public consciousness, REASON was covering private space developments. In July 1974 we ran our first major article, "Free Space" by Paul Siegler, admonishing government to allow the private sector a free hand. In April 1979 we put out a special issue, "Goodbye, Spaceship Earth," applauding the resource and human opportunities opened up by space development. The issue included an article by Gary Hudson, who was later instrumental in development of the Percheron.

In July 1979 Bob Poole investigated the true story behind the German space firm OTRAG. And in November 1981 James Bennett gave the lowdown on "The Second Space Race." As we headlined a Trends item in December 1982, "Adam Smith Phone Home."

Quotes of Note

"The very existence of the FCC, with its oddly antidemocratic compulsion to sanitize the air waves of the unequal, the unfair, and the impure—the very existence of this federal control commission discourages the idea of assigning keen, thoughtful people to say what they want to say. Unless, of course, you do it on the twin-pack basis, Shana Alexander and Jack Kilpatrick, so they can neutralize each other and everyone is reassured by the smell of Lysol."
"Unchain the Electronic Media," Feb. 1979

"I would guess that if we abolished the minimum wage law, reduced licensing restrictions, changed labor legislation, and reorganized the delivery of education, in 20 to 30 years hence there would be no 'Negro problem'—as there is no Japanese, Chinese, Jewish, or other earlier-immigrant problem. These people were able to start off poor and progress because they did not face the market restrictions that constitute Uncle Sam's apartheid."
"The New Jim Crow Laws," Aug. 1978

"In retrospect, I see [my separation from Human Events] as symptomatic of that which has come to divide the conservative movement in the United States. Frank [Hanighen] and Henry [Regnery], in their separate ways, moved on to associate with the far right in the Republican Party. My position remained essentially 'libertarian,' though it is with great reluctance that I yield the old terminology of 'liberal' to the socialists. I was, and continue to be, strongly opposed to centralization of political power, thinking that this process will eventually destroy our federal republic, if it has not already done so. The vestment of power in an HEW is demonstrably bad, but its concentration in the Pentagon and CIA is worse because the authority is concealed and covertly exercised. Failure to check either extreme means continuous deficit financing and consequent inflation, which in time can be fatal to the free-enterprise system."
"In the Course of Human Events," Feb. 1978

"In that setting most conducive to the free acceptance of socialist ideals [the Israeli kibbutzim], with the most attractive and respected socialist communities and the most receptive population, only nine percent (as a generous estimate) would choose to live that way. The prospects, therefore, are dim for interpersonal socialism's coming anywhere voluntarily. As Israel shows us, there won't be enough volunteers."
"Who Would Choose Socialism?" May 1978

"The irony is that, cogent as the original book was, [Henry] Hazlitt is still reduced to looking for hope in the future. But his time has not been wasted. His thinking has had a permeative effect; and when the ultimate inflationary crisis comes, it will be his disciples that pick up the pieces, as the disciples of Ludwig von Mises and the Austrian school did in West Germany in 1948."
Review of Economics in One Lesson, July 1980

"The SALT process,…rather than taking us away from war, entrenches our overseas commitments, locks us into increased defense expenditures, and assures that we will continue to face the Soviets in an atmosphere of tension, armed only with offensive capabilities, and with the growing threat that one side or the other will take the fatal misstep toward World War III."
"SALT-Free Defense," March 1980

"Capitalism has performed unprecedented feats in the production of material well-being, but economic performance by itself is not enough. Institutions that hope to survive in a society like ours have to be seen as possessing moral authority: their powers and their wealth must be accepted as legitimate in some moral and political sense."
"Who Will Speak for Capitalism?" July 1979

"The incredible fact is that both newsmen and businessmen share the identical problem, the identical danger, the identical enemy—interference and control by the state—but do not seem to know it.…What is not being grasped here by most members of either group is a particular principle: the fact that liberty and private property are inextricably linked—that one cannot exist without the other…, that intellectual and political freedom and capitalism are inextricably linked."
"Free Minds and Free Markets," Aug. 1975

"'Industrial policy' really amounts to central planning in disguise. And central planning doesn't work because the central plan must inevitably run afoul of all the myriad small plans of individuals. So if the central plan is to be implemented, individuals 'have to be' prevented from carrying out their plans—whether they like it or not. That is why planned economies always turn into police states."
"Cooperation and Coercion," May 1982

"A free society would never ask its true citizens to think of what they could do for the state. It would always challenge us to do without the state—that ancient false promise, that venerable yoke."
"Living in Freedom," May 1978

Inside Interviews

Ronald Reagan: "I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.…[But] when we come down to government and what it should or should not do for the good of the people and for protecting us from each other, you do come into some grey areas, and I think here there will be disagreements between conservatives and libertarians." (July 1975)

William Simon: "[The Federal Energy Administration] was proposed by President Nixon as a temporary agency, with a life of a year and a half, to take care of the energy crisis during the embargo—not knowing how long the embargo was going to last. One thing that that should teach us is that nothing is ever temporary in Washington and once created will just continue to grow and dominate the affairs of the citizens of this country." (Feb. 1978)

Robert Bleiberg: "…there are tens and tens, if not hundreds and hundreds, of billions screaming to be cut from this swollen federal budget. The government is crying out to be cut. It should be cut for philosophic reasons. Forgetting about fiscal and economic reasons, let's cut the hell out of it for very good reasons: there is too much government, and government is not doing what it is supposed to do, namely, maintain domestic tranquility and provide a shield abroad. Let's go back to doing what government should be doing. I want to cut government spending for that reason." (Feb. 1981)

Thomas Sowell: "My theory of how to get rid of poverty is to hold a meeting of all the leading experts on poverty somewhere in the middle of the Pacific and not let them go home for 10 years. When they came back, they would discover there was no more poverty." (Dec. 1980)

Arthur Laffer: "We were the place that took the poor. We're now the place that precludes the poor. We try to prohibit Mexicans from coming into this country. Our Statue of Liberty says, Give us your poor, your disenfranchised and huddling masses; we'll make them rich. But now we say, You keep your poor and give us your rich—which is outrageous. We were the place where the poor could do it. We are now the place where the poor are prohibited from making it, with an income tax that stopped the poor from becoming well-to-do." (April 1981)

Milton Friedman: "If you speak of the public policy activities, I have no doubt that the thing I am proudest of is having played an important role in getting rid of the draft and introducing the volunteer army." (Aug. 1977)

Thomas Szasz: "A free market in heroin doesn't compel anyone to take heroin any more than a free market in alcohol or cigarettes or rat poison compels anyone to use these substances; and insofar as a person wants to use them, he is of course expected to know how to use them. It's no more difficult to learn the proper dose of heroin than it is to learn the proper dose of aspirin or Ex-lax. I just don't believe these are real problems. They are rationalizations, justifications for the prohibitory policies we have. After all, we live in a capitalist country, and yet free trade in gold is prohibited. You certainly can't attribute that to the pharmacological properties of gold." (Oct. 1974)

F.A. Hayek: "I don't think I have anything to retract [from The Road to Serfdom]. Perhaps I did see the danger nearer, but it is a common experience that these tendencies take a long time to work themselves out; on the whole, though the world is following the path I was afraid it would. In a way, the thing has become more serious just now, because we are now being driven into a planned society by inflation." (Feb. 1975)

Adam Smith: "The practice of funding has gradually enfeebled every state which has adopted it. Like an improvident spendthrift, whose pressing occasions will not allow him to wait for the regular payment of his revenue, the state is in the constant practice of borrowing of its own factors and agents and of paying interest for the use of its own money. The enormous debts which at present oppress will in the long run probably ruin all the great nations." (1776) (printed in REASON July 1976)