Editor's Note: The Public Sector and the Private


Last summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a series of rulings on the "enemy combatants" cooling their heels at Guantanamo Bay and in military custody within the United States, civil libertarians mostly hailed the decisions as a victory for all that is admirable about the American justice system. The Los Angeles Times announced that Rasul v. Bush, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld v. Padilla proved "the rule of law stands above the commander in chief, even in times of war and national emergency." In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that on Reason Online, I crowed, "There seems little doubt that [the rulings] are good for civil liberties."

Harvey Silverglate challenges such sunny evaluations in this month's cover story, "Civil Liberties and Enemy Combatants" (page 22). A practicing lawyer who cut his teeth defending draft resisters during the Vietnam War, Silverglate is personally familiar with the way the government routinely stacks the deck against defendants. Each of the Supreme Court's enemy combatant decisions, he warns, "included enough qualifications and concessions to eviscerate in practice the due process rights that the justices praised in theory….Observers will likely marvel for a long time at how the Supreme Court's noble-sounding rhetoric turned out to have so little influence on the government's actual conduct."

Another story in this issue zeroes in on a different sort of governmental flimflammery. In "Cut-Rate Diplomas" (page 38), Paul Sperry tells the tale of "Dr." Laura L. Callahan, who held important posts at the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security until she was forced to resign after it became clear that her Ph.D. came from an unaccredited diploma mill. When the Government Accountability Office investigated eight federal agencies at random, it discovered that nearly 500 employees, including some 257 at the Department of Defense alone, boasted similarly bogus degrees.

If the Silverglate and Sperry pieces illustrate ways the government disappoints us, Matt Welch's "Fly the Frugal Skies" (page 30) showcases the sort of bracing creative destruction that takes place in the private sector. The late-'90s deregulation of the European airline industry, he reports, has led to an explosion of low-cost carriers that have brought air travel to the Old World's masses: Nearly 45 percent of the European Union's residents took a low-cost flight in 2003. More important, cheap and easy travel has led to an unprecedented mixing of people and cultures that is firing up business and more. (Marriage among E.U. nationalities is at an all-time high.)

Friedrich Hayek, one of reason's great heroes and the man whose legacy is discussed on page 44 ("Hayek for the 21st Century"), would no doubt smile at these developments. An arch-critic of command economies who was hounded out of Europe in the '30s by the Nazis, he knew better than anyone that free markets give rise not only to lower prices but to all manner of powerful social change.