Spotlight: "The Issues Have Changed"


Businessman Martin Stone contends that he hasn't changed one bit in his 20-year political odyssey; rather, public opinion has come much more in line with his consistent stance against government intervention in economics, foreign policy, and civil liberties.

Stone, now the owner of California Business, the nation's largest regional business magazine, is today often considered a conservative whose monthly magazine columns support deregulation, supply-side tax cuts, and an end to business subsidies. "But that's only because the key issues have changed," he says. "When the Vietnam war was the burning issue, I was the first executive of a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange to publicly oppose it."

Stone was then chairman of Santa Monica, California-based Monogram Industries, Inc., an electronic and aerospace firm with extensive federal-government contracts, which he sold in the early '80s. "I believed we were wrong to be in Vietnam, and I still feel that way," Stone says today. "It also jeopardized the fiscal health of this country. We are still paying for it today."

Stone's political commitment took a highly visible turn when he helped set up the unsuccessful challenge of Eugene McCarthy, the former Democratic senator from Minnesota, against President Lyndon Johnson. He served as Southern California chairman for McCarthy and was vice-chairman of the state's delegation at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Stone still is bitter about the tragic events of that convention. "We worked hard only to discover the place was rigged for a Humphrey nomination," he recalls. "[Chicago Mayor Richard] Daley had his thugs everywhere, and what happened to people outside the hall was an outrage."

Stone's is a classic Horatio Alger story. He was born in St. Louis in 1928, but his father moved the family to California during the Depression to search for work. "My father didn't find much work, mostly odd jobs as a stevedore or lumberjack," Stone says. But imbued with a determination to better himself, Stone worked his way through both UCLA and Loyola Law School. He was hired out of college as a tax lawyer, by a struggling, loss-ridden aerospace manufacturer that later became Monogram Industries. By the time he was 30, Stone bought the company and shortly turned it into a $262-million conglomerate with 4,000 employees.

Stone paid a price for being politically outspoken during a time when businessmen were even less anxious to champion their views than they are today. "I was audited every year by the IRS, under both Johnson and Nixon, which cost untold amounts of money in lawyers and accounting fees." He made not one, but two, of Richard Nixon's enemies lists. A letter to White House counsel John Dean describing Stone as an anti-Vietnam war "fat cat" is framed on Stone's office wall.

But Stone was always a strong supporter of free enterprise. "I spoke out against Johnson's War on Poverty programs when they were first proposed. I think I was right—those same government programs today just drive people into long-term poverty."

Since then, Stone has used his columns in California Business to promote an unfettered free market—even when the results can and have cost him money. In 1983, Stone wrote a column entitled "Deregulation is good, even if my airline is a casualty." He reported that he and two associates had purchased a commuter carrier that fell victim to post-deregulation competition. "I am firmly convinced that the airline industry and its customers will both benefit substantially in the long run [from deregulation]," he wrote. Later, Stone wrote a column calling for free-market pricing of water, although he owns an almond farm that benefits from subsidized irrigation.

Of his political philosophy Stone says, "I really don't know what I am. I don't support the idea of selling the national parks, for example. I don't believe that if the republic is in grave danger you would always be able to depend on just a volunteer army. But he is full of praise for the growing number of free-market think tanks and public-policy groups. "All the really stimulating intellectual work is going on there, not on the left as used to be the case."

Stone has helped launch what he hopes will be his own contribution to the political dialogue. He is one of the founders of World Paper, which bills itself as the world's first "global community newspaper." Five years old, it appears monthly as a supplement in 18 newspapers and magazines. It's published in four languages, with the motto "Letting the voices of the world speak for themselves."

What does Stone think of President Reagan? Though Stone has criticized his half-hearted efforts to cut spending and eliminate regulations, "ever since he was governor, I have supported him when he tried to reduce government," Stone says. "About four months before he was elected, we had lunch. We agreed a lot about economic issues. I also think that except for his obsession about government secrecy, he is reasonable on civil liberties."

Will Stone then, as a former McCarthy and Muskie supporter and a leading Democrat, now back Reagan? "I'm not saying," he says. "After we finished talking about domestic issues at that lunch, President Reagan upbraided me again for my opposition to the Vietnam war, and we had some pretty sharp words about foreign policy."

John Fund is on the editorial staff of the Wall Street Journal.