Cato Studies

September/​October 1995 • Policy Report

Public School Privatization

Our elementary and secondary educationalsystem needs to be radically restructured, writes Nobel laureateMilton Friedman in “Public Schools: Make Them Private”. Such a reconstruction can be achieved,Friedman argues, only by privatizing a major segment of the educational system — thatis, by enabling development of a private, for‐ profit industrythat will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities andoffer effective competition to public schools. The most feasibleway to bring about such a transfer from government to privateenterprise is to enact in each state a voucher system thatenables parents to choose freely the schools their childrenattend. The voucher must be universal, available to all parents, andlarge enough to cover the costs of a high‐​quality education. Friedmaninsists that no conditions that interfere with the freedom ofprivate enterprises to innovate be attached to vouchers.

Privatizing Roads for Big Benefits

Enacting policies that encourage the privatedevelopment of roads could be the “win‐​win” solutionfor a Republican Congress searching for ways to simultaneouslyreduce the budget and improve the nation’s infrastructure, saysjournalist Peter Samuel in “Highway Aggravation: The Casefor Privatizing the Highways”.Traffic congestion costs the American economy $100 billion a year,writes Samuel, but state and federal governments are reluctant tobuild the highways needed to ease congestion or to implementrational pricing of highway use. Samuel shows how private road‐​buildingefforts are proving successful where government road projectshave failed. He says that around the country, from LoudounCounty, Virginia, to Orange County, California, private entrepreneursare building muchneeded roads that hard‐​pressed governments cannotafford. The paper points out that highway congestion is the U.S.version of the long lines outside Soviet stores — visible evidenceof the failure of central planning.

National Anti‐​SmogPolicy Is Wrong

National policy on the control of urban smog ismisguided because it fails to account for current pollutiontrends and is based on the anomalous meteorological conditions of1988, conclude K. H. Jones and Jonathan Adler in “Time toReopen the Clean Air Act: Clearing Away the Regulatory Smog”. Although new data on smog have shown that thetrends are continuing downward, the Environmental ProtectionAgency is doing little to halt regulatory overkill, Jones and Adlerwrite. The EPA has promoted various emission control strategies,including enhanced vehicle emission inspections and carpoolingprograms, that are ill conceived. The sort of “control forcontrol’s sake” pollution control strategies pursued by the EPAare neither cost‐​effective nor equitable means of achievingemissions reductions, even should such reductions be necessary.

Act Would Restrict Internet Communication

The Communications Decency Act, sponsored bySen. James Exon (D‐​Neb.) and passed by the Senate 84 to 16 inJune, could severely restrict the free flow of information thatcharacterizes the digital age, writes First Amendment lawyerRobert Corn‐​Revere in “NewAge Comstockery: Exon vs. the Internet” (Policy Analysis no.232). Senator Exon proposed the bill when he learned that sexually explicitpictures and text could be obtained through the Internet andstand‐​alone computer bulletin boards. But “the law threatensto lobotomize the Internet by superimposing essentially the samelegal standard that stifled the publication of literature inAmerica for nearly 60 years under the Comstock law,“Corn-Revere states.

Corn‐​Revere says the bill is unnecessary and incompatible witha culture of free expression. He points out that computers and modemsoffer parents much more control over access to material than do telephonesor televisions. Online services and Internet providers are givingparents a range of options for blocking objectionable material.

V‐​Chip Spells Censorship

In “ ‘V’Is Not for Voluntary” (Briefing Paper no. 24),Corn‐​Revere looks at another congressional assault on free communications,the proposed V‐​chip. Proponents of V‐​chip legislation tout it asa “voluntary” system that simply restores parentalcontrol of the family television. But, writes Corn‐ Revere, thereis nothing voluntary about the rating system being proposed.First, ratings for television programs would be imposed either bya government commission or by the industry under a government‐​imposeddeadline. Second, the courts have invalidated government ratingsystems for movies as “unbridled censorship,” and thesame First Amendment considerations would apply to television.Third, the legislation does not amount to “parentalresponsibility,” for parents would not be the ones todetermine what was objectionable. Rather, parents would gain theability only to tune out programs deemed by the government to beunfit for family viewing.

Reforming “Cowboy Socialism”

The results of more than a century of grazingon public land are testimony to the failure of land‐​use socialism,according to Karl Hess Jr. and Jerry L. Holechek in “Beyondthe Grazing Fee: An Agenda for Rangeland Reform” (PolicyAnalysis no. 234). By all measures, write Hess and Holechek,private grazing on federal lands has been a costly venture. The environmentalcondition of public ranges deteriorated in the early 1900sbecause of overgrazing, and improvement since then has been slow and expensive.Taxpayers have paid for federally supervised and subsidizedgrazing.

Range reform is the centerpiece of InteriorSecretary Bruce Babbitt’s environmental agenda, yet Hess andHolechek say his Rangeland Reform Î94 is a bitterdisappointment. It ignores the institutional impediments thathave made overgrazing and land abuse official programs of thefederal government, and it leaves unchanged the federal policiesthat discourage rancher stewardship and pay stockmen to overgraze.

FDA Regulation:Hazardous to Health

Since its inception in 1938, regulation of themedical device industry by the Food and Drug Administration hasincreased in scope, detail, and cost to the American people. In“Wrecking Ball: FDA Regulation of Medical Devices”(Policy Analysis no. 235), economist Robert Higgs writes that, historically,legislative authority and regulatory stringency have made several discreetleaps, each prompted by shocking revelations widely disseminatedby the news media.

In the past four years, Higgs writes, the FDAhas drastically slowed the rate at which it approves new orimproved medical devices. The FDA’s regulation of medical deviceshas produced little if any benefit but imposed large andincreasing costs. Higgs emphasizes that those costs are not just economic;they also include deaths and human suffering. Ideally, the laws authorizingthe FDA’s regulation of medical devices would be repealed. At aminimum, Higgs proposes that Congress alter the FDA’s authority, makingthe administration an agency for certifying products instead ofan agency for outlawing products, micromanaging the operations ofthe device firms, and impeding innovation.

UN Peacekeeping MissionProlongs War in Bosnia

The recent onset of clashes between UN and Serbforces in Bosnia is the latest evidence that the UN‐​ledintervention in the former Yugoslavia is fundamentally flawed,writes John F. Hillen III in “Killing with Kindness: The UNPeacekeeping Mission in Bosnia” (Foreign Policy Briefing no.34). According to Hillen, that operation prolongs the fightingand suffering instead of contributing to a secure environment inwhich the local parties might negotiate a lasting peacesettlement. The UN intervention has imposed an artificiallife‐​support system on a Balkan society bent on continuing to fight.The “middle way” between traditional passivepeacekeeping and large‐ scale coercive intervention has left allthe local parties with greater incentives to continue theconflict than to negotiate a settlement.

More “Bosnias“in the Offing

The confusion that has bedeviled U.S. policytoward the Bosnian conflict could prove even more dangerous inthe coming years, says Cato adjunct scholar Jonathan Clarke in“The United States and Future Bosnias” (Foreign PolicyBriefing no. 36). There are numerous disputes surfacing elsewherein Eastern Europe that threaten to duplicate the intracommunalviolence that has devastated Bosnia, writes Clarke, a formerBritish diplomat. The distinction between right and wrong oraggressor and victim will be extraordinarily difficult to draw insuch murky struggles.

Because intracommunal conflicts in EasternEurope do not pose a threat to America’s security, Clarke concludes,the United States can and should adopt a consistent policy ofnonintervention.

Military ReadinessCrisis Is a Myth

The recent, much publicized militaryreadiness crisis is as dubious and politically motivated as were the ColdWar era bomber and missile “gaps,” writes defenseanalyst David Isenberg in “The Misleading MilitaryÎReadiness Crisis’ ” (Foreign Policy Briefing no. 35). Mostof the so‐​called readiness deficiencies in late 1994 and early1995 were confined to a few military units that had already been earmarkedfor demobilization.

Isenberg says the remaining problemslargely reflected temporary cash‐ flow difficulties arising from unanticipatedmissions in Kuwait, Rwanda, and the Persian Gulf. Nevertheless,the Pentagon and its supporters in Congress successfully fannedpublic concerns about a nonexistent crisis and obtained a $3.04billion supplemental appropriation for the Department of Defense.

Contrary to the prevailing mythology,Isenberg concludes, the Pentagon is not underfunded; the risk of returningto the “hollow forces” of the 1970s is overstated. TheUnited States spends far more on the military than does any othernation, and its military forces have unmatched capabilities.