Benign Neglect for the State?
Independence of, even hostility to, government is a long, honorable, but hidden tradition among black Americans. Now the establishment, always the last to catch on to significant cultural trends, is dipping its bulky toe in nonstatist waters.
Black self-help was central to the thought of black leaders linked to the political left earlier in this century. From Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X to the early Black Panthers, a do-it-yourself, the hell-with-government ethos prevailed. Carrying that banner for the last decade or so have been a number of black intellectuals linked to the political right: economists Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, political scientist Glenn Loury, lawyer and current head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Clarence Thomas, and others.
As usual, the men and women in the middle of the road—a spot suitable only for "dead aardvarks," as Texas politician Jim Hightower says—have lagged behind. But now they may be catching up, as evidenced by the recent essay "Black Initiative and Governmental Responsibility," published by the respected D.C.-based black American "think tank," the Joint Center for Political Studies.
The essay was a group project of the JCPS's Committee on Policy for Racial Justice, chaired by ultra-establishment figures John Hope Franklin and Eleanor Holmes Norton. The language of the essay illustrates the rapidly changing terms of debate in the black political world.
The committee, note Franklin and Norton, urges black Americans to "draw more explicitly and openly upon the extraordinarily rich and vibrant tradition of black values." At the same time, they want to "do more to mobilize and, in some instances, redirect the strong self-help tradition that is hard at work but too often hidden from public view."
Ten of the essay's 15 pages detail that "rich and vibrant" history of black self-help. A few excerpts hint at the pleasing and unusual flavor:
• "Blacks made the transition from a largely impoverished mass of former slaves to a strong, vibrant [love that word!] community largely through individual effort and…the work of civil rights, cultural, fraternal, religious, social, professional, and service organizations in the black community."
• Government action "has pushed to the background recognition of the long history and continuing efforts of progress through self-reliance."
• "Some of the problems blacks face cannot effectively be handled by government alone, as blacks know best of all."
And on and on in refreshing style, until the committee wimps out and begs for an oddly neoliberalish program of state action: rebuild crumbling infrastructure, more government day care, public employment, more money for training—you get the picture. Gary Hart in blackface.
But the conventional coda shouldn't obscure the strides the black establishment is making. The radicals who cleared the path of self-reliance, and the misnamed "conservatives" lighting it today, may soon be getting some very welcome fellow travelers.
New Study Teaches Perils of Government-Run Schools
More homework, stricter graduation requirements, higher expectations for students, better-paid teachers—this slew of educational reforms is all the rage. But a recent study comparing public and private schools suggests that such reforms won't work.
Ah, another conservative critique of the education establishment? Not this time. In fact, the study comes from the generally liberal Brookings Institution. And the authors, acknowledging that it "may seem like heresy," actually suggest a radical alternative reform: transfer control of schools from the government to the market.
Political scientists John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe, along with other scholars, surveyed nearly 500 public and private schools in an attempt to explain the finding of two previous studies: that private high schools promote substantially more learning—up to a year's worth—than do government-operated high schools. Based on their research, Chubb and Moe conclude that the most important determinant of school effectiveness isn't good teaching, high standards, or involved parents; instead, it's the environment in which schools operate. Public schools in a democracy are governed by democratic authority—and democratic politics. And that, say Chubb and Moe, is the problem.
Because public schools are controlled by a political process, they're obliged to respond to the needs of all their constituencies: citizens, school boards, teachers, administrators, politicians, and state and federal governments, "however diverse, difficult to meet, and internally inconsistent their demands might be." Private schools, by comparison, are governed by the market and thus have much clearer standards. They must, say Chubb and Moe, "please the immediate consumers of education services, students and parents," lest the clients take their business elsewhere.
Chubb and Moe found that private schools in fact typically have more control over the way they're run, are freer to choose the teachers and administrators they want, and generate more parental involvement than do public schools. For example, "tenure and unionization tend to settle the question of when and how the basic personnel decisions will be made in the public sector. They will be centralized. In the private sector, schools are largely free of such constraints and have far greater flexibility to choose their own members and chart their own paths."
Band-Aid reforms, conclude Chubb and Moe, won't help the government's school system, since public schools don't have to respond to the forces of the market. Because these schools have the illusion of being free, "and because most parents are neither wealthy enough nor obsessed enough with education to change their residence with changes in school quality, public schools have a semi-captive clientele with little choice but to patronize the local monopoly. This is particularly true of low-income citizens." Such schools are further sheltered from market forces by the fact that their revenue "comes from political authorities via taxation rather than from parents as a fee for services rendered."
Chubb and Moe don't claim to have the perfect cure for what ails our schools. But they're sure that genuine improvement would involve shifting control of the educational system from politicians to schools and their clients: the students and their parents. While they mention education vouchers as a possible way to effect that shift, their purpose is not to prescribe a particular solution but to show why moving in the market direction makes a whole lot of sense.
Who Will Design the Space Plane of the Future?
Last year's shuttle disaster finally broke the NASA mystique. Analysts are now willing to take a more critical look at how space transportation should be provided—and by whom. Two recent studies offer a case in point.
In the Winter 1987 issue of Resources, Molly K. Macauley of Resources for the Future points to the absence of sound economics in the way NASA ran the shuttle program. By subsidizing shuttle launches—in fact, charging users between one-fourth and one-half the true cost—the agency distorted launch customers' choices, observes Macauley. Subsidization led most users to choose the shuttle over expendable launch vehicles (ELVs) such as the Delta and Titan. Such predatory pricing nearly destroyed the ELV industry.
But the destructive effects of NASA's monopolizing behavior go much further, say space policy experts James Bennett and Phillip Salin. In a study by the Los Angeles–based Reason Foundation released in March, Bennett and Salin draw a telling comparison between the evolution of aircraft design and that of space launch vehicles. (In addition to its research activities, the Reason Foundation is publisher of REASON.)
The former has been characterized by a process of trial-and-error evolution, by numerous competing companies. Over time, this incremental approach has led to innovation after innovation, with steady improvements in performance versus cost. That approach produced reliable, economical workhorse aircraft such as the DC-3 and the 727. By contrast, NASA's monolithic "I'm in charge here" approach has produced only three generations of launch vehicles in 30 years, all of them virtual one-of-a-kind, extremely high-cost models. In spite of the cost-reducing effects of technology seen throughout the economy in the past 20 years, NASA's third generation (the shuttle) actually has a higher cost per pound launched into orbit than the second-generation Saturn V rocket.
The best way to ensure lower-cost access to space, say Bennett and Salin, is to foster a competitive transportation marketplace. And that means getting NASA out of the way, returning it to its limited role as an R&D agency. Among other things, the federal government should start purchasing launch services directly from private space transportation firms. And the feds must remove numerous regulatory barriers and provide equal access for private firms to existing launch sites.
Though NASA is trying mightily to restore its preeminent role, the private sector is beginning to assert itself. ELV makers are getting a lot of orders from commercial customers: McDonnell Douglas already has nine reservations for Delta launches from communications satellite firms, plus a number of Air Force contracts, and Martin Marietta has signed up eight customers for Titan launches. Startup American Rocket Company expects its first launch before year-end and is talking with both commercial and military customer prospects for low-earth-orbit launches.
And it appears that federal policies are starting to follow the Bennett/Salin prescriptions. The Commerce Department's National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has just announced that it will no longer be going to NASA to launch weather satellites; it now plans to buy launch services in the private sector. And Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole has told the Office of Management and Budget that NASA, which needs to supplement the shuttle with ELVs, should be required to purchase launch services, rather than buying the rockets and operating them itself.
With the private sector involved, perhaps the next generation of launch vehicles will give us a space DC-3 after all.
Driven to Drink?
It's Friday evening and you want to buy a six-pack of Bud. So you stop at the corner gas station, where you fill 'er up and pop into the convenience store to buy your brew. But the store doesn't have any. To discourage drunk driving, your town has passed a law prohibiting gas station convenience stores from selling beer and wine. Your local bureaucrats, however, may be in for a surprise: recent research indicates that such a ban is likely to increase drunk driving.
Economists Patrick McCarthy and John Umbeck of Purdue University have researched the effectiveness of banning common-site sales of alcohol and gasoline as a way to control drunk driving. They analyzed over 400 cities in California, comparing alcohol-related accident rates in cities that have banned such sales (over 70) with those that haven't. "In virtually every test," reports the journal Regulation, "cities with bans were found to have experienced an increase in the incidence of alcohol related accidents after imposing the ban." The effect was small but "statistically significant."
What's going on? For one thing, prohibiting people from buying beer or wine at gas station convenience stores, which are often located near residential areas, apartment complexes, and college dorms, means people have to drive elsewhere, often farther away and sometimes to higher-traffic non-residential areas. So if they're going to drink and drive, they'll be on the road for a longer time to do it. In addition, if packaged beer and wine is less convenient to obtain, people may drink in bars—then drive home—rather than drink at home.
Florida, Michigan, Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio have recently considered adopting the ban. In light of these findings, they ought to reconsider mandating a cure that could make the disease worse.
? Seeing the light of day. The Supreme Court has ruled that states may not regulate cable programs that aren't legally "obscene." Ten other states joined Utah, which had passed a law banning sexually explicit cable TV programs between the hours of 7:00 A.M. and midnight, in appealing a lower court decision which said such laws violate the First Amendment; but the Supreme Court refused to hear their plea.
? Bang-up survey. Ninety-one percent of police officers surveyed think that banning or severely restricting gun ownership would not reduce gun-related crimes. Conducted by two police groups, the national survey also revealed that 91 percent of officers wouldn't be willing to turn in their own guns upon retirement, even if such ownership were banned.
? No Charles Manson, she. Sydney Biddle Barrows, the "Mayflower Madam" of a million-dollar call-girl service, may keep the profits from her bestselling autobiography and movie. The New York Supreme Court ruled that the "Son of Sam" law, which prohibits criminals from profiting from their stories, doesn't apply to Barrows because promoting prostitution is a "victimless crime."
Engine Engine Number 9, Closing Down Apartheid's Line
JAMBA—In a surprise move that is sure to confuse some of his critics, Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi has offered to reopen the vital Benguela Railway. Although Savimbi is often dismissed as a puppet of the South African government, the Los Angeles Times reported that he made the offer "so that neighboring Zambia and Zaire can avoid shipping their mineral exports through South Africa and thus take a stronger stand against [the apartheid government in] Pretoria."
The Benguela Railway, which bisects Angola and terminates at the Atlantic Ocean, has been effectively closed by Savimbi's UNITA forces during the decade in which they have been fighting Angola's Marxist government. The practical effect of closing the 810-mile east-west route has been to force neighboring countries to depend on South African ports for their international trade.
Zambia, for instance, sends 65 percent of its exports and three-quarters of its imports through South Africa. If the Benguela Railway is opened, most of that trade will be diverted to Angola.
Zaire is in a similar situation. Access to Angolan ports, and concomitant independence from South Africa, will enable the black African states to assert more vigorously their opposition to South Africa and its system of government-enforced racism known as apartheid.
Savimbi is also willing to let the Angolan government resume traffic on the line, subject to international inspection to ensure that military supplies are not being shipped. Opening the railway is expected to spur the Angolan mining industry.
If the Angolan government accepts Savimbi's offer, speculates the Times, it could result in a "truce and even a cooperative relationship." At press time, the South African foreign ministry had no comment.
? Useful bureaucrat? The traditionally statist Canadian province of Quebec, prodded by its ruling Liberal Party, has sold eight government enterprises over the last year, including an airline and a gold mine, and is planning further divestments, according to Minister of Privatization Pierre Fortier.
? The state of crude. President Cory Aquino's People Power government in the Philippines appears ready to sell off some operations of elephantine Philippine National Oil Co. to the private sector. On the block is 65 percent of Petron, consisting of 900 gas stations and a refinery. British Petroleum, Elf Aquitaine, and Kuwait Petroleum are the leading prospective buyers.