Cato Studies

Public School Privatization
Privatizing Roads for Big Benefits
National Anti-Smog Policy Is Wrong
Act Would Restrict Internet Communication
V-Chip Spells Censorship
Reforming "Cowboy Socialism"
FDA Regulation: Hazardous to Health
UN Peacekeeping Mission Prolongs War in Bosnia
More "Bosnias" in the Offing
Military Readiness Crisis Is a Myth


Public School Privatization

Our elementary and secondary educational system needs to be radically restructured, writes Nobel laureate Milton 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 — that is, by enabling development of a private, for- profit industry that will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools. The most feasible way to bring about such a transfer from government to private enterprise is to enact in each state a voucher system that enables parents to choose freely the schools their children attend. The voucher must be universal, available to all parents, and large enough to cover the costs of a high-quality education. Friedman insists that no conditions that interfere with the freedom of private enterprises to innovate be attached to vouchers.

Privatizing Roads for Big Benefits

Enacting policies that encourage the private development of roads could be the "win-win" solution for a Republican Congress searching for ways to simultaneously reduce the budget and improve the nation's infrastructure, says journalist Peter Samuel in "Highway Aggravation: The Case for Privatizing the Highways". Traffic congestion costs the American economy $100 billion a year, writes Samuel, but state and federal governments are reluctant to build the highways needed to ease congestion or to implement rational pricing of highway use. Samuel shows how private road-building efforts are proving successful where government road projects have failed. He says that around the country, from Loudoun County, Virginia, to Orange County, California, private entrepreneurs are building muchneeded roads that hard-pressed governments cannot afford. The paper points out that highway congestion is the U.S. version of the long lines outside Soviet stores — visible evidence of the failure of central planning.

National Anti-Smog Policy Is Wrong

National policy on the control of urban smog is misguided because it fails to account for current pollution trends and is based on the anomalous meteorological conditions of 1988, conclude K. H. Jones and Jonathan Adler in "Time to Reopen the Clean Air Act: Clearing Away the Regulatory Smog". Although new data on smog have shown that the trends are continuing downward, the Environmental Protection Agency is doing little to halt regulatory overkill, Jones and Adler write. The EPA has promoted various emission control strategies, including enhanced vehicle emission inspections and carpooling programs, that are ill conceived. The sort of "control for control's sake" pollution control strategies pursued by the EPA are neither cost-effective nor equitable means of achieving emissions reductions, even should such reductions be necessary.

Act Would Restrict Internet Communication

The Communications Decency Act, sponsored by Sen. James Exon (D-Neb.) and passed by the Senate 84 to 16 in June, could severely restrict the free flow of information that characterizes the digital age, writes First Amendment lawyer Robert Corn-Revere in "New Age Comstockery: Exon vs. the Internet" (Policy Analysis no. 232). Senator Exon proposed the bill when he learned that sexually explicit pictures and text could be obtained through the Internet and stand-alone computer bulletin boards. But "the law threatens to lobotomize the Internet by superimposing essentially the same legal standard that stifled the publication of literature in America for nearly 60 years under the Comstock law," Corn-Revere states.

Corn-Revere says the bill is unnecessary and incompatible with a culture of free expression. He points out that computers and modems offer parents much more control over access to material than do telephones or televisions. Online services and Internet providers are giving parents 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 as a "voluntary" system that simply restores parental control of the family television. But, writes Corn- Revere, there is nothing voluntary about the rating system being proposed. First, ratings for television programs would be imposed either by a government commission or by the industry under a government-imposed deadline. Second, the courts have invalidated government rating systems for movies as "unbridled censorship," and the same First Amendment considerations would apply to television. Third, the legislation does not amount to "parental responsibility," for parents would not be the ones to determine what was objectionable. Rather, parents would gain the ability only to tune out programs deemed by the government to be unfit for family viewing.

Reforming "Cowboy Socialism"

The results of more than a century of grazing on public land are testimony to the failure of land-use socialism, according to Karl Hess Jr. and Jerry L. Holechek in "Beyond the Grazing Fee: An Agenda for Rangeland Reform" (Policy Analysis no. 234). By all measures, write Hess and Holechek, private grazing on federal lands has been a costly venture. The environmental condition of public ranges deteriorated in the early 1900s because of overgrazing, and improvement since then has been slow and expensive. Taxpayers have paid for federally supervised and subsidized grazing.

Range reform is the centerpiece of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's environmental agenda, yet Hess and Holechek say his Rangeland Reform Î94 is a bitter disappointment. It ignores the institutional impediments that have made overgrazing and land abuse official programs of the federal government, and it leaves unchanged the federal policies that discourage rancher stewardship and pay stockmen to overgraze.

FDA Regulation: Hazardous to Health

Since its inception in 1938, regulation of the medical device industry by the Food and Drug Administration has increased 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 discreet leaps, each prompted by shocking revelations widely disseminated by the news media.

In the past four years, Higgs writes, the FDA has drastically slowed the rate at which it approves new or improved medical devices. The FDA's regulation of medical devices has produced little if any benefit but imposed large and increasing costs. Higgs emphasizes that those costs are not just economic; they also include deaths and human suffering. Ideally, the laws authorizing the FDA's regulation of medical devices would be repealed. At a minimum, Higgs proposes that Congress alter the FDA's authority, making the administration an agency for certifying products instead of an agency for outlawing products, micromanaging the operations of the device firms, and impeding innovation.

UN Peacekeeping Mission Prolongs War in Bosnia

The recent onset of clashes between UN and Serb forces in Bosnia is the latest evidence that the UN-led intervention in the former Yugoslavia is fundamentally flawed, writes John F. Hillen III in "Killing with Kindness: The UN Peacekeeping Mission in Bosnia" (Foreign Policy Briefing no. 34). According to Hillen, that operation prolongs the fighting and suffering instead of contributing to a secure environment in which the local parties might negotiate a lasting peace settlement. The UN intervention has imposed an artificial life-support system on a Balkan society bent on continuing to fight. The "middle way" between traditional passive peacekeeping and large- scale coercive intervention has left all the local parties with greater incentives to continue the conflict than to negotiate a settlement.

More "Bosnias" in the Offing

The confusion that has bedeviled U.S. policy toward the Bosnian conflict could prove even more dangerous in the coming years, says Cato adjunct scholar Jonathan Clarke in "The United States and Future Bosnias" (Foreign Policy Briefing no. 36). There are numerous disputes surfacing elsewhere in Eastern Europe that threaten to duplicate the intracommunal violence that has devastated Bosnia, writes Clarke, a former British diplomat. The distinction between right and wrong or aggressor and victim will be extraordinarily difficult to draw in such murky struggles.

Because intracommunal conflicts in Eastern Europe do not pose a threat to America's security, Clarke concludes, the United States can and should adopt a consistent policy of nonintervention.

Military Readiness Crisis Is a Myth

The recent, much publicized military readiness crisis is as dubious and politically motivated as were the Cold War era bomber and missile "gaps," writes defense analyst David Isenberg in "The Misleading Military ÎReadiness Crisis'" (Foreign Policy Briefing no. 35). Most of the so-called readiness deficiencies in late 1994 and early 1995 were confined to a few military units that had already been earmarked for demobilization.

Isenberg says the remaining problems largely reflected temporary cash- flow difficulties arising from unanticipated missions in Kuwait, Rwanda, and the Persian Gulf. Nevertheless, the Pentagon and its supporters in Congress successfully fanned public concerns about a nonexistent crisis and obtained a $3.04 billion supplemental appropriation for the Department of Defense.

Contrary to the prevailing mythology, Isenberg concludes, the Pentagon is not underfunded; the risk of returning to the "hollow forces" of the 1970s is overstated. The United States spends far more on the military than does any other nation, and its military forces have unmatched capabilities.