Balance Sheet



? Swap Meet. The 18-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trading bloc endorses an American proposal to eliminate tariffs on computer hardware and software and telecommunications products by 2000. The tariff cuts would lower prices on hundreds of billions of dollars in goods and services–fully half the items traded between the United States and Asia.

? Rightsizing Sam. Despite record tax and regulatory burdens, in one area the federal government's role in the economy approaches a 50-year low: direct purchases of goods and services. At the height of the Cold War, spending on weapons systems, government salaries, and such infrastructure projects as the Interstate Highway System absorbed as much as 15 percent of GDP. That number is now 7 percent and falling. As central planners end up with less money, entrepreneurs get more.

? Left Out. Former Nicaraguan socialist strong man Daniel Ortega has his head handed to him–by voters. Businessman Arnoldo Aleman becomes president after defeating Ortega by a double-digit margin. One major initiative for the new ruling Liberal Party coalition: restore properties seized by the Sandinistas to their original owners or give them compensation.

? Party On. The tax revolt soldiers on. Voters in Florida turn down a penny-per-pound sugar tax to fund cleanup of the Everglades. Floridians also pass an initiative requiring any tax hike to get a two-thirds majority referendum vote. Successful initiatives in Nevada and South Dakota require supermajority votes in the state legislature to raise taxes. And in California, voters must now approve any proposed hikes by "special tax districts"–those supposedly independent entities that levy utility taxes and development fees.


? Dole Man. A year ago, Steve Forbes, Dick Lugar, and even Pat Buchanan had completely discredited the incomprehensible Internal Revenue Code and heaped ridicule on the use of taxes as a mechanism for social engineering. But Bob Dole's sleazy '96 campaign against the flat tax bears bitter fruit. Any "tax reform" in 1997 will consist of opening loopholes (child, tuition, and hiring credits, just to name three) rather than closing them. Thanks, Bob.

? Land Grab. How green will Newt's next Congress be? (See "Natural Lite," Oct.) The Clinton administration, which wants asset forfeiture laws to cover suspected polluters, will offer a test. Clinton's proposed Environmental Crimes and Enforcement Act would let the Justice Department freeze a corporation's assets before it went to trial on an environmental charge. In The Wall Street Journal, James Bovard quotes EPA head Carol Browner: "If you're polluting the public's air and water, then the benefits you derive, the assets you have, can be taken."

? Canadian Club. Mainstream medical associations enter the war against managed care. (See "Medical Meddling," Dec.) The District of Columbia Medical Society, citing "significantly decreased physician reimbursement" under managed care, becomes the first state-level medical association to endorse a single-payer, tax-funded health care system. Writing in the AMA publication American Medical News, former Texas Medical Association President Robert M. Tenery Jr. says single-payer is "looking more attractive every day."

? Royal Flush. Hate going to the DMV? Just be thankful if you're older than 18: Bill Clinton wants to force minors applying for drivers' licenses to first pass a drug test. Let's see, now. Wait in one line to pick up a cup, another to, ahem, fill it (under the watchful eye of a helpful DMV clerk), a third to turn it in, and a fourth to get your (confidential!) test results. Then take your road test. Don't get smug, Republicans. Putative 10th Amendment lover Bob Dole says this sounds like a good idea.