The Vietnam war. Hippies. Divorce. Blacks' rights, women's rights, gay rights. Teen pregnancy. Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll…and families that are stronger than ever.
Despite the many social upheavals of the past few decades, the great, old-fashioned institution known as the family is alive and well. That's the word from gerontologist Vern L. Bengtson, who since 1972 has studied the stability of the American family. Reports of the death of the family have apparently been greatly exaggerated.
The University of Southern California researcher has followed 400 three-generation families in the Los Angeles area (acknowledged as overwhelmingly white and solidly middle-class) and has concluded that "families are becoming more important in our society…and intergenerational relationships are more important…today than they have been at any point in history."
Bengtson and co-researcher USC psychologist Margaret Gatz conducted their initial test in the aftermath of the '60s and found, for example, that members of the three-generation families in their study didn't perceive their own families as experiencing the infamous "generation gap." And the followup study in 1985 found that the family members felt even less of a gap, both between the oldest and the youngest and between the oldest and the middle generations.
In another section of the 1985 study, all three generations ranked "loyalty to your own" either first or second in a list of important factors in their lives. The youngest generation, however, couldn't decide between loyalty to your own and personal freedom. (An interesting footnote: low-ranking priorities for all age groups were religious participation, patriotism, and attractive appearance.)
How has the family managed to remain so strong? For one thing, people are living longer, so continuing contact between the oldest and youngest generations is more likely. Improved telecommunications—namely, the phone—has helped. So has the increased pace of life, in which friends, neighbors, and coworkers may change, but family stays the same. "When things really get rough," said one respondent, "I can always count on my family."
Bengtson and Gatz, who hope to continue their study of the same families through 1991, did find intergenerational conflict over the importance of the work ethic, with some young people eschewing their parents' belief that work must always come before pleasure.
But among people of all ages, the similarities are greater than the differences when it comes to attitudes toward the family. If the importance of family has changed, it has only become stronger. Concludes Bengtson, "Human beings are really quite resilient to sociological, political and economic changes."
Privatization Gets A Commission
Sell the Postal Service and the air traffic control system? Those ideas would not sound bizarre in Margaret Thatcher's Britain, but they're still pretty radical stuff in Washington, D.C. Nevertheless, they are among the ideas being considered by the President's Commission on Privatization, appointed by Ronald Reagan last September.
There's the usual required balance among Republicans and Democrats, business and labor, etc. Yet the Commission's membership includes a number of known free-market types, including Annelise Anderson (Hoover Institution), Mike Antonovich (Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors), Richard Fink (Citizens for a Sound Economy), and Ralph Stanley (Municipal Development Corp.). Its labor member is Walter Bish, president of the union at employee-owned Weirton Steel. And the chairman is an economist, Professor David Linowes of the University of Illinois.
Despite those promising portents, however, special-interest politics quickly raised its ugly head. At an early meeting, member Melvin Laird got the commission (free-marketers were absent) to vote to exclude any consideration of selling the Postal Service, raising all the usual specious objections (cream-skimming, no service in the boondocks, etc.). Laird even admitted his conflict of interest, given his employment by Reader's Digest, the country's largest mailer. But the commissioners meekly acquiesced, only to partially reconsider at the next meeting with the free-market four back in attendance.
By year-end the commission had held four sets of detailed hearings: on public housing, federal loan assets, air traffic control, and education vouchers. Others were scheduled on contracting out of federal support services and asset sales.
The housing and loans hearings produced few surprises. Basically, the commission endorsed present administration policies: substitute housing vouchers for further public-housing construction; take steps toward tenant management and ownership of public housing projects; continue selling off government loan portfolios.
It was the air traffic control hearings that produced a few surprises. The predictable litany of status-quo-defenders included three former administrators of the Federal Aviation Administration and an Air Force assistant secretary who implied that a private air traffic control firm would not be able to keep 727s out of military bombing ranges and objected to the possible burden of the military having to pay several million dollars a year (!) under a user-pays private system.
What was surprising was the favorable witnesses, who included not only think tank analysts Robert W. Poole, Jr. (Reason Foundation), James Gattuso (Heritage Foundation), and Fred Smith (Competitive Enterprise Institute), but also Carol Crawford, associate director of the Office of Management & Budget and several private-sector aviation people.
Least expected was the testimony of William A. Kutzke, head of startup firm Air Transport Holdings, Inc., of Washington, D.C. His presentation called for the government to sell the air traffic control system (estimated price: $3–4 billion—put that in your deficit pipe and smoke it). A user responsive, well-funded private enterprise, he argued, could provide the infrastructure needed to keep pace with the rapidly increasing level of air traffic.
Kutzke, a former Northwest Airlines vice-president, said his firm was interested in purchasing some or all of the system. And he made an interim offer to take over the operation of the FAA's 105 smallest control towers, staffing them with its own licensed personnel and freeing up some 600 federal controllers for work elsewhere in the badly strained system.
How far the commission is willing to go on such issues is much in question. December saw the formation of a Shadow Privatization Commission, as the joint project of a number of free-market think tanks. It plans to issue its own report soon after the official commission releases its report. A comparison should be interesting.
Tanks a Million
Spurred by the success of national public policy organizations, a growing number of free-market-oriented "think tanks" are springing up at the state level, filling a market niche by addressing state and local problems.
Chicago's four-year-old Heartland Institute was the first such organization, followed by Denver's Independence Institute, which was incorporated in mid-1985. The field has mushroomed in recent months, says John Blundell, executive vice-president of the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) at George Mason University. Blundell can list at least 13 other states in which free-market institutes either are already open or plan to open soon. 'They've seen the national foundations, and they're kind of applying that model to their own back yard."
Heartland, for example, has produced studies on such state wide issues as Illinois's "blue laws" and utility taxes. The institute also takes on local issues such as Chicago's taxicab regulation, sanitation services, and mass transit.
And the influence of state-level foundations occasionally crosses state lines: In 1985, a Heartland study criticized a plan to build a domed stadium in Chicago using public funds and concluded that privately owned sports stadiums are superior. The study has since been used in other cities that were debating similar proposals.
These free-market institutes hope to turn the tables on growing liberal activism in state governments. Conservative activist Paul Weyrich writes in Policy Review that state legislatures are "crawling with liberal lobbyists."
Although Weyrich and other conservatives like to claim these organizations as part of the fold, they actually tend to eschew the social issues on which conservatives call for greater government control. When syndicated columnist Neal Peirce surveyed the field, he reported that "nary a fire-eating right-winger, not a single religious righter, showed up in the bunch." It could be because, as Michael Joyce of the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation told Peirce, "increasingly, issues transcend traditional liberal-conservative labels."
Many of the people starting the new organizations are novices in the nonprofit world, Blundell notes. "They perhaps don't know the first thing about incorporating as a nonprofit, accounting methods for nonprofits—which are completely different than profit-making organizations—how to recruit and build a board of directors, how to write a proposal, all those kinds of nuts-and-bolts things."
But national foundations are eager to help their little brothers overcome such obstacles. IHS has offered its services, as has the conservative Heritage Foundation, which last year offered a two-day training course on public relations and fundraising techniques, drawing between 40 and 50 people. And the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in San Francisco publishes a manual on starting and running an institute.
Meanwhile, Joseph L. Bast, executive director of the Heartland Institute, has started up the Madison Group as a network of such institutes, as well as national think tanks that also get involved in local issues. With a bimonthly newsletter announcing events, tracking new publications, listing job openings, etc., the fledgling and established groups can creatively feed off one another.
What is the appeal of starting an institute? Says Blundell: "If you can change around the whole atmosphere in your state by using the institute model, you achieve something." It's an attractive alternative to state politics, "where you'll be engaged in endless log-rolling."
For Your Information
Groups or individuals mentioned in this month's Trends:
Institute for Humane Studies
George Mason University
4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
214 Massachusetts Ave, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Atlas Economic Research Foundation
220 Montgomery St., Suite 1063
San Francisco, CA 94104 (415) 392-2699
Joseph L. Bast
59 E. Van Buren, Suite 810
Chicago, EL 60605 (312) 427-3060
Vern L. Bengtson
Univ. of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90007
P.O. Box 41827
Philadelphia, PA 19104
President's Commission on Privatization
1825 K St., NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20006
Shadow Privatization Commission
2716 Ocean Park Blvd., Suite 1062
Santa Monica, CA 90405 (213) 392-0443
End of an Era?
Rachel Carson's nightmare vision of a world ruined by industrial pollution made Silent Spring the touchstone book for a generation of environmental activists. Readable and impassioned, Carson's book galvanized support for environmental regulation and engendered fears that "manmade chemicals" are inherently dangerous.
But Carson's view has been countered in recent years with an argument that is making greater and greater inroads in the scientific community. In 1984—12 years after the publication of Silent Spring—investigative reporter (and former REASON columnist) Edith Efron launched a devastating attack on the idea that industrial society produces a host of cancer-causing chemicals dangerous even in trace amounts.
In The Apocalyptics: Politics, Science, and the Big Cancer Lie, Efron told a well-documented detective story of how ideologically motivated activists and press-shy scientists combined to mislead the public about the dangers of industrial chemicals. Unlike Carson's instant hit, The Apocalyptics built an audience slowly. But Efron's book is gaining more and more attention.
The scientific journal Cancer Research recently paired Carson and Efron on its cover, describing the two authors and their works in a one-page article inside. "Both books should be read by cancer investigators, and their lessons should be considered by cancer specialists and those reaching scientific conclusions as well as those responsible for framing government regulation," the magazine urged.
How to Fight City Hall: Lesson One
For almost five years, Linda Paustian and a small coalition of Philadelphia citizens have been fighting city hall to stop a surefire boondoggle—the construction of a $476-million convention center (paid for with tax dollars, of course). Paustian has written articles, gone on talk shows, and even rented a white elephant (literally) to get her point across.
Her latest tactic is straight out of the annals of antidevelopment activism—file a suit and tie things up in court for as long as possible. In a class action filed December 1, Paustian charges that a hotel tax dedicated to financing construction of the center violates the Constitution's interstate commerce clause and imposes an unjustifiable burden on the right to interstate travel.
Joining Paustian in the lawsuit are such out-of-state residents as John Fund, of the Wall Street Journal, and David Boaz, of the Cato Institute, who paid the tax when staying in Philadelphia hotels but won't derive any benefits from the convention center.
Together with a suit filed by an airport hotel on the grounds that the convention center will benefit only downtown hotels, Paustian's suit promises to delay indefinitely the bond issue necessary to finance construction. And, should she prevail in court, Paustian expects to have a national impact. "Hotel taxes similar to this one are used to finance convention centers in many cities, and this is the first case to challenge such a tax under the commerce clause or the right to interstate travel," she says.
Tories Gird for the Next Battle
Savvy observers are laying odds on welfare reform in Margaret Thatcher's third term. With John Moore—who earned a reputation as "Mr. Privatiser" at Treasury—now at the head of Health and Social Services, it seems like a good bet.
The 49-year-old Moore was moved to the influential post shortly after Thatcher's reelection last June and lost little time in calling for a "great debate" on changes in the welfare state in the 1990s. In September, the London Sunday Times reported that Moore had been studying Losing Ground, the 1984 book by American academic Charles Murray that charted the counterproductive results of the War on Poverty. Behind the scenes, sources tell REASON, Moore also made the book required reading for his senior bureaucrats and ordered up new ideas for policies based on Murray's critique of welfare spending.
Moore's record on privatization shows he's a fighter. "We had to overcome the paternalistic view, widespread in my own political party, that ordinary people should not be allowed to risk their savings in the market," he said in a speech in September. And at the Treasury, there was a "long and acrimonious battle" over small shareholders, rather than big institutions, getting most of the shares in the sale of British Telecom.
Moore, whom the Times dubs "the Tory right's favoured candidate to succeed Mrs. Thatcher," sees the extension of ownership as the justification for privatization and the heart of the government's long-term program for bolstering the free society. "Here is where I have an advantage that some might call a disadvantage," he said. "My family did not own anything until late in life," he recalls, "so I know at first hand the fascination—and the fear—that ownership exerts on those who do not have it."
Now, Moore declares that Thatcher's government needs to steer the poor "away from dependency and towards opportunity." He assures the predictable critics that he is not talking about dismantling the welfare state. But he does wish to "create an atmosphere where people have faith in their own ability, and with that faith take action." Details, he promises, are forthcoming.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Trends".