Balance Sheet

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Assets

Teenage Wageland. Child-labor laws come under question, as the labor shortage drives businesses to hire more teens—and people notice that supermarkets and fast-food joints aren't exactly sweatshops. Federal rules say 15-year-olds can't work past 7:00 P.M. on school nights and people under 18 can't run meat slicers. State laws are even more paternalistic, but changing. Massachusetts relaxes its law to let food-store employees under 16 work till 7:00, instead of 6:00.

Midlife Savers. Americans put away more of their paychecks. The personal savings rate hits a four-year high, at 6.3 percent of disposable income, in March. Fears of a recession, perhaps. But more likely, it's just what the economic theorists would predict: as people age, they save more. Even baby boomers.

Household Help. Single-family zoning erodes a bit, allowing more-efficient use of the housing stock and less government control over private life. New York State's highest court strikes down a law forbidding more than four unrelated people to live together in a single-family residence; the case involved a family with three elderly boarders. Meanwhile, Denver revises its "living in sin" code to permit two unrelated people to live together.

Democracy Will. Chinese student demonstrators overwhelm troops sent in to quell their protests. Onlooking workers cheer. Crowds are so large and anonymous that they'll be hard to wipe out. The demands are vague—"I don't know what democracy is. But we need more of it," a student tells the New York Times—but the thrust is clear. Government officials have too much power, with too few checks. A free press and independent judiciary would go a long way. Time to import Chinese translations of Tocqueville.

Liabilities

Property Rites. The land-use war on religious exercise continues (see "Quiet Crusade," Dec. 1987). Two rabbis get slapped with $50,000 fines for holding services in their Wesley Hills, New York, home, a violation of zoning laws. Atlanta wants to seize two churches to build a new stadium. A Minneapolis suburb limits the acreage of churches—and no other institutions. Traffic is the issue, not tax exemption.

Smog Alert. Debate over air pollution, both the Clean Air Act and L.A.'s draconian plan, gets cast in the same old terms: cheapskate profiteers versus "purity at any price" good guys. Unless we black hats alter the terms of the debate, we're doomed. When the air is at stake, reporters don't care about lost jobs, poor people, or anything else that smacks of materialism.

Import Quotas. "Managed trade." What is it? Affirmative action quotas for American products in Japan. A government-appointed committee of business bigshots wants to force the Japanese to buy American—even when import barriers aren't the problem. Carla Hills, Bush's antitrade trade rep, seems to like the idea. But, notes New York Times economist Peter Passell, to control what people buy, the Japanese would have to adopt Soviet-style central planning. Maybe that's the point.

Insurance Scam. The fuss over Medicare's new catastrophic coverage makes it clear what the Social Security generation expects from the government—something for nothing. Yes, it's wrong to foist high taxes on all retirees to pay for insurance they may not need or want. But the gripers aren't talking about scrapping the program altogether. They just want someone else to foot the bill.

NEXT: Taxing Solutions

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