Ring in the New!

We Who Cherish Liberty Have Our Work Cut Out for Us

The new year reminds us that the turn of the millennium approaches. (That is true whether you celebrate the occasion in 2000 or 2001.) Let’s not forget that it is also the end of the century that Paul Johnson dubbed the century of politics. Will it be succeeded by the century of liberty? Developments are mixed. There seems to be a new appreciation of the wonders of the free market and a wider understanding of the flaws of government control of peaceful activity.

Still, with all that, I don’t yet sense that the freedom philosophy is about to be embraced in substantial measure. People don’t yet seem willing to give up subsidies and other benefits from government. They don’t even show curiosity over whether the amount they pay for everyone else’s benefits outweighs whatever they receive. I wonder if most people realize how pervasive government is.

What this means is that we who cherish liberty have our work cut out for us. It may seem daunting. But the consequences for us and for our children make the effort worth the candle.

* * *

Campaign-finance abuse has been much in the news of late. Typically, when we think of big donors to political campaigns, we conjure up an image of someone delivering a contribution to a candidate or political party in the hope that a favored subsidy, regulation, or trade restriction will be approved. In these pages, Fred McChesney of Cornell University takes a fresh look at the matter and comes up with a fascinating twist. You might not look at the activities of Congress in the same way again.

The year 1998 marks the centenary of the birth of FEE founder Leonard E. Read (making it appropriate, perhaps, to start the century of liberty two years early). Our yearlong Read retrospective begins with a 1956 selection that celebrates social cooperation and the division of labor.

What can economics tell us about the law as it applies to personal relationships? David Laband and John Sophocleus of Auburn University think it can tell us plenty. They look at two recent law cases involving engagement and marriage, and come up with some interesting, maybe controversial, results.

Advocates of the freedom philosophy no doubt are uneasy with the federal government’s attempts to maneuver the tobacco industry into an “agreement” that would, among other things, provide lots of money for the treasury. Robert Levy provides the details that support that uneasiness. As he shows, the process is an assault on the rule of law and the Constitution. Everyone should be worried by the eventual outcome and the precedent it establishes.

Peter Samuel, editor of the newsletter Toll Roads, is an indefatigable researcher and writer on the subject of the privatization of roads. His article in this issue ranges widely—from history to politics to economics—in his exploration of the question: can we have roads if the government doesn’t build or run them?

Nothing is more twisted out of shape in the United States than medical insurance. Because of the perverse incentives created by government intervention, people use medical insurance in ways they would never use it in a free market. Imagine buying an auto-insurance policy that covers replacement headlights and oil filters. It might sound nice—until you saw the premium. At that point, you would undoubtedly decide that the policy is not worthwhile. As Ross Levatter and Rebecca Geshelin explain herein, medical insurance makes no sense for predictable events. But government has manipulated the law to make it appear as though it is sensible. The authors apply this insight to pregnancy benefits.

Henry Ford was one of America’s great pioneering entrepreneurs. Last month, philosopher Loren Lomasky explained how the automobile has liberated the individual by making mobility more feasible than it was in the pre-automobile days. It follows, then, that Henry Ford was one of the great liberators in history. The details of his life and business philosophy are fascinating and inspiring. And they are well told in these pages by Burton Folsom, who has distinguished himself as an engaging biographer of American entrepreneurs.

Hong Kong is now part of China, of course, and China is not exactly the world’s most prominent exponent of democracy. The public-opinion molders have been wringing their hands over the dim prospects for democracy in the prosperous former British colony. John Wenders of the University of Idaho puts the matter in perspective by pointing out that Hong Kong got rich without democracy.

Charles Baird of California State University at Hayward is an economist who keeps a sharp eye on labor unions. He reports that it may soon be possible for unions to establish themselves in a company without even a secret-ballot vote by the workers. Is this a last-ditch attempt by the fading union movement to forestall the inevitable?

If you ask college students what freedom is, you are likely to get an assortment of curious answers. Russell Madden of Mt. Mercy College reports the results he got with his students.

Does individualism conflict with communities? The communitarians say yes. But Edward Younkins of Wheeling Jesuit University says no. On the contrary, he thinks individual liberty makes for the best kind of community. People unfamiliar with the freedom philosophy may find that paradoxical, but this article will sort it out.

Also in this issue: a full complement of book reviews and provocative contributions from our regular columnists: Larry Reed on privatization, Doug Bandow on the politics of “global warming,” and Mark Skousen on bull markets.

—Sheldon Richman

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