Balance Sheet



Southern Strategy. Deregulation sweeps Argentina. President Carlos Menem, The Wall Street Journal reports, abolishes most state-sanctioned monopolies in retailing, finance, and other businesses. "Anybody can just open a new drugstore in the same block," complains one druggist. "What can I do now?" "Compete," Menem replies.

Road to Vindication. F.A. Hayek gets this country's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His 1944 book The Road to Serfdom explained why central planning is doomed. He predicted the collapse of communism decades before it was fashionable. The president could further honor Hayek by sacking several thousand central planners in Washington, D.C.

Decontrol Group. San Francisco voters repeal a tough rent-control law. By a 56-to-44-percent margin, vacancy control (which keeps rent frozen when tenants move) goes down. And Mayor Art Agnos, vacancy control's main champion, faces a tough re-election runoff against rent-control foe Frank Jordan.

Blue Christmas? Hundreds of stores and millions of shoppers defy Britain's Sunday closing laws. Three supermarket chains, including Safeway, and other large retailers illegally open shop on the four Sundays before Christmas. The government refuses to enforce the blue laws; Prime Minister John Major calls them "bizarre" and "unsatisfactory." The Home Office will amend or repeal the closing laws soon.


Uncivil War. The national ACLU touts censorship; a local chapter backs the First Amendment. A female dock worker in Jacksonville sees nude photos and charges colleagues with sexual harassment. ACLU President Nadine Strossen supports the lawsuit—she argues the First Amendment doesn't cover nude photos when shown to "a captive audience." But the always feisty Florida ACLU defends the pinups in court. Executive Director Robyn Blumner tells USA Today, "Just because an employee is offended by a message doesn't mean it's illegal."

Road Block. Congress passes the $151-billion highway bill. University of Southern California transportation planner Peter Gordon says it's a boondoggle. In a Reason Foundation study, Gordon says private toll roads and vanpools, not new subways and freeways, will relieve gridlock. He cites Harvard economist John Kain, who estimates 90 percent of rush-hour troubles results from mispricing 5 percent of the nation's highways.

Cave Man. Under pressure from viros, the Bush administration reconsiders its strict new definition of wetlands. (See "The Swamp Thing," April.) The old Bush plan says land has to be wet for 21 straight days before it's deemed a wetland; environmental regulators call the requirement "confusing." One government report labels the new definition "technically unsound and unnecessarily burdensome." Meaning—the greens are angry. And Bush wants to make nice.

Tastes Great? The world's weirdest successful political movement—Poland's Friends of Beer Party—splits. Now that Friends of Beer has won 16 seats in Parliament, the left-leaning small-beer faction wants to purge large-beer supporters for their sympathies with businessmen. Party founder (and large-beer spokesman) Janusz Ravinski tells the Los Angeles Times, "You can't have good-quality beer without good breweries.…[So we are] for a modern, market economy."