You Can't Phase Out a Monster over Seven Years

Rule No. 1 for slaying the Hydra: slay it.

Don’t just cut off one—or even a few—of its heads. That’s not good enough: the head might grow back. Kill it dead. How many times do we need to be taught that lesson before we learn it?

During the presidency of Ronald Reagan the Department of Justice ended the long, unjust, and wasteful antitrust case against IBM. Moreover, antitrust prosecutions dropped significantly. This happened because Reagan’s team included an antitrust staff heavily influenced by Chicago-school critics of antitrust theory and practice. Having sipped from the cups of Yale Brozen and then Robert Bork (whose Antitrust Paradox made a deep impression), the staff understood that the history of antitrust prosecution was mostly a history of government’s going to bat to save weak competitors from consumer-pleasing companies. It was about protectionism, not monopoly.

But the Justice Department people did not object to antitrust in principle. So while they abstained from interfering with mergers and other activity that previously would have summoned the government’s wrath, they did not seek repeal of the government’s authority to prosecute companies for peaceful activity. The Hydra was sedated, not slain. When the Clinton team replaced the Reagan team, the Hydra awoke. Ask Bill Gates.

Agriculture is another example of reforming the Hydra. A couple of years ago congressional Republicans boasted that they had put the appalling system of farm subsidies on a seven-year track to oblivion. They sappily called their bill the Freedom to Farm Act. But in the last session, with farmers’ incomes off and the election bearing down, the GOP-run Congress did a one-eighty. Farm subsidies were nearly doubled. The head grew back.

In the 1970s the rock group Steppenwolf performed an intelligent song about America and its government called “Monster.” The chorus was, “There’s a monster on the loose. It has our heads in a noose.” Regardless of good intentions, most members of Congress who pay homage to the free market don’t understand that you can’t phase out a monster over seven years. If you try, you deserve to get bitten. But the rest of us don’t.

* * *Most people seem to believe that if the government were not regulating safety in air travel, airplanes would routinely fall out of the sky. Eric Nolte, a commercial airline pilot, shows that this belief betrays a woeful failure to understand how a free economy works.

What to do with a piece of property should be a fairly straightforward matter. But when the property is a decommissioned government-operated military airport, the simple becomes the hopelessly complicated, as Tibor Machan demonstrates.

The European Union. The new euro currency. What is going on in Europe? Norman Barry compares the ominous process of Euro-centralization with the American constitutional experience.

Pope John Paul II’s trip to Cuba last year was remarkable in many ways. One of them had to do with what the Pope said about family and education in Castro’s paradise. David Boaz says America’s education establishment should have been listening.

President Clinton says “save Social Security first.” But should it be saved at all? The intrinsically flawed pay-as-you-go transfer program is given a thorough going-over by Harry Dolan.

Trust in government is at an all-time low. Those who lament this state of affairs chide the people for their wariness. But Dwight Lee and Jeff Clark argue that government is only getting what it deserves.

The 1998 winner of the Nobel Prize in economics is an Indian-born economist who favors government intervention to improve the lot of the people. Barun Mitra contends that India has had enough of that already.

Ludwig von Mises is reputed to have said that government is the only institution that can take a useful commodity like paper, slap some ink on it, and make it worthless. But that paper is imposed on us with the magic words “legal tender.” D. Alexander Moseley wonders if it is time to banish those words.

The Big Corporation is the bogeyman of every socialist and lesser interventionist. But not to worry, writes Max More, because the market process and technology favor decentralization and competition.

Beware cost-benefit analyses for government programs. As Karen Selick points out, they stand on a foundation of quicksand: namely, the erroneous principle that one person’s costs can be compared to another’s benefits.

The University of Wisconsin was once a bastion of free speech. Then Donna Shalala, the future secretary of health and human services, took over. Jon Sanders says it’s been downhill ever since.

He was a nineteenth-century American individualist who battled for free speech and the right of women to be as free as men. At age 75 he was sentenced to a year at hard labor for his trouble. Wendy McElroy chronicles the life of Moses Harman.

Our intrepid columnists, Lawrence Reed, Doug Bandow, Dwight Lee, Mark Skousen, and Charles Baird, take on government airports, the folly of alliances, business honesty, Amartya Sen, and the International Labor Organization. George Selgin looks at the case for a worldwide central bank and implores, “It Just Ain’t So!”

Book reviews this month scrutinize urban education, taxation, early black entrepreneurs, the costs of war, enviro-capitalism, anti-science, and economics and the law.

—Sheldon Richman

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