A Reviewer's Notebook - 1979/9

To meet Henry Regnery, one would never suspect him of being a revolutionary. He is self-contained, even placid. He does not raise his voice. He is not a sleeve-plucker. But, working out of a small publisher’s office in Chicago with little support from the book sellers and only sporadic encouragement from reviewers, he has been one of the more potent movers and shakers in the American conservative movement.

He tells the story of his publishing ventures in an engagingly modest autobiography, Memoirs of a Dissident Publisher (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 757 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017, 260 pp., $12.95), that is in thorough keeping with his character. Always honest with himself, he had an affinity for honest men who are finding it difficult to get a. forum in a world dominated by the quasi-collectivists who had appropriated the word "liberal" to de-scribe their illiberal philosophy. He had some money from his father’s business, he had the support of his Quaker-bred wife, Eleanor, who believed in his inner light as well as her own, and he retained enough business sense to keep clear of bankruptcy even while doing good for its own sake. With these quiet advantages he picked up authors who, though they scarcely realized it themselves, were just on the verge of capturing new audiences for which the Establishment publishing authorities had no feeling and no use.

The list of conservative and libertarian writers who were either floated or rescued by the Regnery imprint now makes a "Who’s Who" of a movement that is coming of age. Regnery published Bill Buckley’s God and Man at Yale on a tip from Frank Hanighen of Human Events, he accepted Russell Kirk’s epochal The Conservative Mind in its impressive entirety after Knopf had demanded that it be cut to a quarter of its length, and he gave many a dissident in the field of foreign affairs (Freda Utley, William Henry Chamberlin, Charles C. Tansill, George Crocker) his or her head. In between times he did not neglect poetry, belles lettres and religion, publishing books of consequence and taste even though they did not anticipate the apocalypse.

Studies in Germany

In his diffident way Henry Regnery would have you believe that he became a publisher because he was not fit to be anything else. His own record belies his modesty. He decided against an engineering career after two years at Armour Tech, but he continued to pursue a mathematics major at M.I.T. At M.I.T. he met students and teachers who deflected him from the "dull winter of mathematics and physics" to more exciting pursuits in music, art, languages and philosophy. At the behest of a young German friend he spent two years in the German Rhineland, studying at Bonn and listening to all the music that he could absorb. Regnery’s forebears, on both his father’s and mother’s side, had come from the Mosel region near Trier, so Rhineland Germany seemed home to the young student. Hitler had not yet succeeded in Nazifying the region, and the genocidal purge of the Jews was still a few years away.

The German experience taught Henry Regnery that not all Germans are Prussians, and gave him a special feeling for the opposition to Hitler whose plottings might have ended the war at an early stage if Roosevelt had not insisted on unconditional surrender. Returning home to New Deal America, Regnery studied economics at Harvard under Schumpeter, learning something of "the realities of the world." He began to distrust the fashionable intellectuals who had illusions of their own importance, but he retained enough faith in the New Deal to spend a summer working for Rexford Tugwell’s Resettlement Administration.

Quaker Influence

After qualifying for an M.A. at Harvard he took a job with an American Friends Service Committee community project in western Pennsylvania which offered a voluntaristic version of the Tugwell theories. Using funds raised by the Quakers from private foundations, the so-called Penn-Craft community hoped to establish an industry to sustain homesteaders who could no longer find work in the mines or at the abandoned coke ovens. The most advantageous event to come out of Henry Regnery’s brief association with Penn-Craft was his meeting with Eleanor Scattergood, the daughter of a prominent Quaker family. After their marriage, they spent a short time working with the Penn-Craft pioneers, but the time had come, so the young couple felt, for something more permanent. Henry Regnery tried to return to his father’s textile business, but soon, as he says, he found himself sliding into publishing "almost imperceptibly."

The young Henry began with pamphlets, an offshoot of his connection with Human Events, a publication started in Washington toward the end of the war by Frank Hanighen and Regnery’s Quaker friend Felix Morley. One thing led to another, and a collection of Communist documents assembled by Raymond Murphy of the State Department, too voluminous for pamphlet issue, inevitably became a book, Blueprint for World Conquest, with an introduction by William Henry Chamberlin. The Human Events pamphleteering introduced Regnery to more and more people who did not conform to what he perceived to be the "dominant opinion" of the times, which was all in favor of accommodation with Stalin abroad and an extension of welfarist collectivism at home.

The "dominant opinion" included Henry Morgenthau’s plan for turning the German Rhineland and Ruhr into a permanent industrial waste. Henry Regnery, remembering his own German experience, revolted against that. So the first imprints of a newly formed Henry Regnery Company went on two books by the humanitarian English publisher Victor Gollancz, In Darkest Germany and Our Threatened Values, and one by the philosopher Max Picard, Hitler in Our Selves. A first Regnery catalogue included Hans Rothfel’s The German Opposition to Hitler and Ernst Juenger’s The Peace.

The Flag of Unorthodoxy

Having raised the flag of unorthodoxy, Henry Regnery began to discover that Gollancz’s phrase, "our threatened values," applied all over the lot. Pursuing this anti-Morgenthau interests, Regnery pub, fished Montgomery Belgion’s Victor’s Justice and Freda Utley’s The High Cost of Vengeance. Later he issued Utley’s The China Story, but not in time to save mainland China from the Communists. Mortimer Smith’s And Madly Teach, a book on the dominant educational theories that had inflicted the faulty "look-say" reading methods on a generation of unsuspecting children, became a Regnery best-seller after Time magazine had devoted a three-column article to it.

It was only natural that Regnery should take the lead in publishing early World War II "revisionist books." There was William Henry Chamberlin’s America’s Second Crusade, Charles Tansill’s Back Door to War, Husband Kimmel’s Admiral Kimmel’s Story and George Crocker’s Roosevelt’s Road to Russia. Regnery says he doubts that publishing the true story of Pearl Harbor or Yalta "will prevent such occurrences in the future." But the truth, he says, "is worthwhile for its own sake." If we can’t know what our leaders have done and agreed to in our name, the alternative is "the society described in George Orwell’s 1984."

Regnery anticipated Solzshenitsyn by many years with his publication of Elinor Lipper’s Eleven Years in Soviet Prison Camps. He outraged the Zionists by publishing Alfred M. Lilienthal’s What Price Israel, even though Lilienthal made plain his "obvious devotion to his Jewish faith."

It was not with a movement in mind that Regnery accepted Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind and Bill Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, but a movement it became, as the many Regnery titles mentioned in George Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 attest. In a period of less than two years Regnery issued James J. Kilpatrick’s The Sovereign States, Felix Morley’s Freedom and Federalism and James Burnham’s Congress and the American Tradition, all of which complemented each other.

Regnery has a gift for characterization, and his descriptions and analysis of some of his authors—Konrad Adenauer of West Germany and Roy Campbell, the South African poet, are examples—prove that he could have been a huge success as a critic or journalist if he had not chosen publishing as a career. But publishing was just exactly right for him. It allowed him to indulge his master passion, which was to let honest dissidents have their say.



by John C. Goodman and Edwin G. Dolan

(West Publishing Company, 50 W. Kellogg Blvd., P.O. Box 3526, St. Paul, Minnesota 55165) 1979

211 pages n $6.95 paperback

Reviewed by Lawrence W. Reed, Assistant Professor of Economics, Northwood Institute, Midland, Michigan

How refreshing it is to come upon a textbook on public policies which holds those policies up to the light of liberty as a standard for judging their desirability. At a time when many economists cast this yardstick aside with a "Mussolini at least kept the trains running" attitude, two authors have produced a magnificent volume which is at once sound economics and a defense of liberty.

The primary purpose of John C. Goodman’s and Edwin G. Dolan’s Economics of Public Policy: The Micro View is "to help students understand how economic theory applies to the real world . . . by showing how some of our most important (and often controversial) public policies reflect economic principles in action." If the response of students at my college, Northwood Institute, is any indication, Goodman and Dolan deserve an "A+" for success in this endeavor.

In Chapter 1, "Thinking About Public Issues and Policies," Goodman and Dolan map out for the reader the course they will take in the succeeding fifteen chapters. They explain that positive economies—the scientific study of economic institutions, policies, and actions—will be utilized through examination and application of such concepts as scarcity, opportunity cost, the production-possibility frontier, supply and demand analysis, and consumer choice. From there, the authors propose to enter the risky field of normative economics—"the application of ethics or philosophy to economic issues."

It is this latter emphasis that makes Goodman’s and Dolan’s book so intriguing to the freedom believer. The authors readily acknowledge that "not everyone agrees on which normative standards are valid or on which ethical principles are more important than others" but they are quick to proclaim that "such disagreements are no excuse for the failure to think and express ourselves clearly" in this realm.

The first standard which they use in evaluating public policies is that of efficiency, defined by the authors as "the property of producing or acting with a minimum of expense, waste, and effort." A policy or a change in policy is judged "efficient" by this standard if its benefits exceed its costs.

A second standard, equality, focuses on the distribution of income and wealth. If there is anything in the book which might touch off a libertarian’s warning siren, it would be this point. Goodman and Dolan state that "By this standard, a policy that causes income and wealth to be more equally divided would be judged to be a good policy . . ."

Inclusion of this standard, however, does not lead the authors to endorse coercive, egalitarian measures. They consistently favor the unfettered price system for rationing economic goods and oppose nonmarket forms of rationing put forth as programs to "help the poor." They champion the sanctity of contract and rebuff schemes for the forcible redistribution of wealth. They clearly show that recognition of "value trade-offs" is important—that complete equality of income, for instance, could only be achieved with disastrous effects on both efficiency and their third criterion, liberty.

As applied to the evaluation of public policy, Goodman’s and Dolan’s standard of liberty holds that "any policy is bad if it violates the individual’s civil and economic liberties." Such liberties include freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the right to own property, the right to produce goods and services, and the right to engage in voluntary exchange with others. As a professor of economics, I am at a loss to name another textbook which rigorously evaluates the public policies of today against such noble principles.

Look to the Individual

Another great strength of this book is the policy-by-policy scrutiny of the "politics" of the issues. Here, the authors tackle the job of "trying to explain why we have the particular policies we do have." As Ludwig von Mises and the praxeological economists have stressed repeatedly, the basic economic unit of society is the individual. All actions and their consequences must be traced back to their point of origin—particular individuals with particular interests and ideas. Only in this manner can we see why an act or policy has come about, and then assign responsibility.

Once their methods of analysis are unfolded, the authors take on such varied topics as the military draft, gasoline rationing, product safety, farm policy, the postal service, illegal aliens, the minimum wage, the environment, and social security.

Chapter 10, "Competition and Monopoly in the Market for Oil," is one of the best. It covers a brief history of government and the oil business, a look at the OPEC cartel, the politics of oil, and a summary of several alternative energy policies. These range from adopting a free market to breaking up oil companies to nationalizing the oil industry. In their evaluation, Goodman and Dolan endorse the free market as the only alternative consistent with the standards of efficiency and liberty, even though it does not promise greater equality of income:

By this standard [liberty] there should be no restrictions on the buying and selling of oil and no restrictions on the production of oil and oil products. Nor should government be able to tax "windfall" profits or subsidize "windfall" losses. Nor should government impose arbitrary restrictions on our behavior or use the tax system to reduce our consumption of oil. The production, distribution, and use of oil should be left totally to the free choices of individuals who are participating in the free market.

In other chapters, the reader will find such interesting tidbits as a contrast between private and government mail delivery in American history, a defense of free immigration, a suggestion of applying the property rights concept to eliminate pollution, and an endorsement of innovative, free market pricing in the distribution of electric power. In every chapter, the authors write in a lively and lucid style that makes this study of public policy an absolute delight.

Economics of Public Policy: The Micro View is exciting and exceedingly useful in the classroom. And, in this reviewer’s opinion, it’s just great reading for anybody.