Balance Sheet



House Calls. Some 25 million Americans work at home for pay and profit. "The numbers today are vastly greater than the largest numbers we allowed ourselves to imagine," says Future Shocker Alvin Toffler. The trend promises to cut pollution, traffic, and commuting time. And it poses a fundamental challenge to zoning: if we're working at home, who's to say commerce doesn't belong in the neighborhood?

Trees Company. A low-cost, positive approach to the greenhouse effect emerges among some environmentalists: plant more trees. They consume carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, and cool things off. Plus, tree-planting can start (literally) in our own backyards, without government aid. And even if the greenhouse effect doesn't pan out, trees are nice to have around.

Masters of the University. Teeth-gnashing about the growing number of foreigners earning Ph.D.s at U.S. institutions misses an important point: our higher-education system works. It is, despite some flaws, the best in the world. We should try the same model—of diversity and choice—in the lower grades.

Safety First. The Transportation Department yields to consumer druthers and cuts automobile fuel-economy standards. Anticonsumerists like Carter safety maven Joan Claybrook wail. But it's hard to cry safety, since the old rule cost thousands of lives by forcing people into smaller cars. No matter. Up-to-date Joan clutches the competitiveness club. The higher standard, she says, would force the Big Three to make more small cars at home.


Family Feud. Baby M was only the beginning. Nowadays, kids are the most fought-over form of property. After their daughter dies, a couple finds out she wasn't theirs; the hospital mixed up two babies. Now they want the other girl. A California man appeals to the Supreme Court to get custody of the daughter his girlfriend put up for adoption. The reactions are understandable. But these are school-age kids, not abstract principles, and they might like to stay with the mom and dad they're used to.

Job Securities. The plant-closing law takes an odd turn, as its first "beneficiaries" turn out to be…investment bankers. Yep, Wall Street is laying off a damn sight more people than steel mills, and now they all get 60 days' notice. Says labor lawyer Bruce H. Simon: "The supreme irony is that a law designed to protect workers from the evils of capitalism will provide protection for the frontline troops of capitalism."

Secretarial Pool. The law that sets up the new Veterans Department creates a "National Commission on Executive Organization," guaranteed to come up with new ideas to lengthen cabinet meetings. Its chief backer, Sen. William Roth (R–Del.), has his heart set on a Department of Trade. By 2025, cabinet secretaries will not only outnumber congressmen, they'll form a union and hold meetings in the Astrodome.

Chips Ahoy. Nearly every industry that uses computer chips bids for government protection—all in the name of national security, of course. Industrial-policy pushers say "we" can't let "the Japanese" beat "us" in making high-definition TVs. (Yes, TV is vital to national security, especially if you're a company that might make TVs.) But lots of products use chips. Should we protect toasters? Bathroom scales? Talking teddy bears?